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Like everyone else that owns a small business the economy’s shaky stature made me wince and I was concerned about the ability for my little company to stay afloat in a sea of financial chaos and uncertainty. Everyone else was sharing the same fears and apprehensions and there were numerous studies showing that couples we postponing their weddings or at the least scaling back on what they were spending… that was good enough bait for most professionals to start discounting if not abandoning their pricing structure for something that would be more affordable and appealing for their clientele, especially in our industry where we are already fighting against the shoot and burn photographers that in undercharging are teaching potential brides that is all their family heirloom is worth, and the quality of that first heirloom is diminished because of it.
For me personally there was an added element of panic this year because Michael was called to deploy and because of such took leave from his duty here to spend time with his family. We had enough money in savings to cover our expenses for a month or two until he left for afghanistan, and at the moment time together with the kids was the most important thing to us. So when the military changed their minds {that NEVER happens} and postponed his date, I went from having to only financially support my studio and craft, and enjoying the benefit of having extra spending cash to being the sole source of income for my studio and my family. Panic was a bit of an understatement.
So when we got a call from a friend about wedding photography there was more pressure than usual to book it, because we needed the money. Now. So we offered a discount for the day, and then when they hesitated on the price we continued to negotiate for several days, not only fueled by financial pressures but because they were friends, and at one point we realized that we had nearly discounted to half our usual rates…but was $3000 now worth the possibility of $5500 later? At that exact moment it seemed like it was with our mortgage payments looming in the near future for both the studio and our home.
When I start feeling overwhelmed or conflicted I read over notes I have taken from other mentors and the wisdom they have shared, in seminars, in books, in lectures and tutorials. I came across one by Skip Cohen, where he said “Just because they say it’s going to be a bad year for the economy doesnt mean it has to be.”
I let the wedding go, as much as I wanted to photograph it because I loved the couple, and because we needed the income right then.
We booked 2 other weddings that month that gave us a little breathing room, then we got another call from a sister of a friend of ours that came in, their wedding was the same date as the one I had passed up, so I was grateful that we would at least rebook the date, and feel that I made the right decision in letting it go. Not only did they book. They booked an $8000 package. When a few weeks before I had been considering doing a $5500 package worth of work, and outputting all the overhead for it with $2000 less of income. Really had I accepted I would have lost a substantial amount of income, and a wedding that I am super excited about shooting because the couple is absolutely adorable, and fun, and has some really wonderful things planned for their wedding that I am going to love sharing stories about with 2012 brides.
Fear is crippling your success. For some of us it’s lowering prices because we are afraid of the competition undercutting us on price, or we’re afraid of the economy making us another small business casualty in the wake of the financial insecurity. Some of us it’s fear that if we leave the security of day jobs we’ll fail, fail at our passion, fail at providing for our families, fail at being successful in pursuing our wildest dreams and being everything we dared to when we were 5. Fear that if we accomplish everything we are hoping to that the sacrifices will be too great, or we will find ourselves still feeling unfulfilled…

When you are ready to let go of your fears, what you can accomplish is limitless, in my humble opinion coupling that with compassion would be an amazing energy with boundless possibilities to change your destiny and impact the world.

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Today I am 28, I was born in a blizzard, married in a blizzard, last year got snowed in with all my dearest friends in the blizzards, and it has snowed every year on birthday even if only a few flurries.  In 28 years, I married the love of my life, have two of the cutest, funniest, most beautiful children who are healthy and happy and wonderful {not that I’m at all biased}  We bought our forever home, close to family, in the right school district, and both the hubby and I have fantastic careers that we are passionate about and enjoy doing.  I have made some excellent friends, have fantastic clients, and amazing mentors that have helped push the studio to unimaginable successes this year.  I own not only my own home, but my own studio, and have an incredible assistant that keeps everything running smoothly and is one of my best friends.  All my very oldest and dearest friends got engaged or married this year, and my very favoritest girlfriend and sister in law gave me a beautiful little nephew that I adore.  My birthday very often gets roped in with Christmas, which is ok because it is my favorite holiday, and I am so lucky that counting my blessings would be like trying to count each of the many christmas lights I am going to make Michael hang later tonight…

All that being said, there isnt much on my wish list for my birthday/christmas this year, so instead of getting gifts I’d like to give some.  So if you go to http://www.facebook.com/JessicaLarkPhotography, you’ll be able to keep an eye on the statuses and see what we are giving away, everything from prints, portrait sessions, and studio time, to portfolio reviews, studio consultations, and free admission into one of our seminars.  I want to give you what you want, so feel free to make a suggestion, it’s hard coming up with 28 ideas off the top of my head today.

My thanks to you and the parts you play in my life that make it so wonderful ❤

 

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Thank you to everyone who submitted questions via www.formspring.me/JessicaLark and at Twitter Here’s what I received, and my responses to them:

Anonymous:  are your photos heavily retouched? alot of the models look downright striking, but I get the feeling they have had boobs added, chub erased, and muscles toned.   My reply via formspring: There are a lot of photographers that reinvent, I am not one of them. Everyone likes to look their best, and sometimes yes I’ll touch up their skin a bit, or embellish their features slightly. Mostly my retouching has a lot to do with the moody and muted coloring that my images are known for. I also have an incredible make-up artist and stylist and know what clothes, poses, and especially lighting will help flatter their best attributes and diminish the visibility of any flaws {following my formspring reply s/he responded with}  Interesting.  Because I know three of the girls you have photographed in real life and they look NOTHING like they looked in your pictures.  They had completely different supermodel bods.  Even they said they had been retouched heavily.
My response to that:   If you’re referencing a certain image{s} I’d be happy to discuss the workflow to get the image that way both in the shooting angles, lighting, and post production…you can’t create what isnt there, you can only enhance the natural beauty… I think every woman is a canvas of endless possibilities for artistry. Photography for me is not about the general public sees her, it’s about how I see her, which is why my imagesof her will look entirely different than anyone else’s images of her. I love the sensuality and softness of the female aura, it’s easier for me to see the positive attributes of a girl than the flaws. Also I never show images unless they are finished. My signature style is a hybrid of how I shoot and the post processing. A photograph is a composition, the final image is the performance. So actually the girls have no idea how much or little retouching is applied to them, I have the feeling they are selling themselves short on how much natural beauty they actually have.
I would actually like to add to that {and perhaps some of my MUAs and Wardrobe stylists can chime in}  EVERYONE  looks stunningly different when they have their hair and makeup professionally done, and are wearing clothes that are designed to flatter their specific figures.  Personally I think if any one thing I do dramatically changes a person’s look, particularly in their figure it’s dramatic lighting, shadows cut out a lot of perceived size, and accent curves.  I am not ashamed to admit I am still learning the finer points of lighting, often times I work with 1 or 2 light set ups with clients because I dont want to waste their time fiddling with lights, my assistant and my sister in law are my greatest victims for experimentation and unfortunately lately I havent had a lot of time to play.  If I dont get the dramatic feel I am after, I will often enhance the effect in photoshop with dodge and burn… perhaps later if anyone is interested I will do a video with some of my post editing work through.

DouglasWeber DouglasWeber 

@JessicaLark Just started following u courtesy/@ScottBournecongrats on bootcamp. What steps do you go thru to interview and select a model?
Thanks for following Douglas ❤   Most of the people in my portfolios are not professional models, most of them are housewives, and career women, at least half of them are moms.  Mostly just girls wanting to do something sexy for themselves or their SO.  On the rare occasion that I have enough free time to play I never offer TF* to a model I haven’t worked with before.  One I much rather thank a client that has paid for my services in the past, and two no matter how pretty they are if our personalities dont mesh or they arent flexible enough {my models will tell you they are sore the next day}  I wont get good images and I wasted my time.  I do keep a collection of the people I work with and usually if I have a personal project or someone else inquires about a commercial project they need I usually have a girl in mind for the project already.
If you are asking more what should you be looking for in models:  Obviously the look.  Make sure they have a good selection of images, if you can befriend them on fb or myspace and see some snapshots all the better to get a feel for her genuine look.  They should be easy to work with.  They should take direction well, but also not need you to hold their hand all the way through the session.  You can also contact other photographers that have worked with her and ask them for reviews of her personality, professionalism, and look.  Some girls have a blend of all three and just can not engage the camera on their own… it’s up to you.  I have yet to have a photo session that I couldnt post at least one image from, if you do it’s your fault not the model’s.  🙂

Anonymous:  How do you pick your models?  Are they friends, or hired out?

Some of the above applies to this question as well.  Mostly, I dont pick my models, they call me to shoot them.  I never pay for models, I never have.  When I look at my very early work, it’s amazing some of them agreed to work with me; even as TF* Most of my models I would consider very dear friends, and most of my good friends wouldn’t trust anyone else to capture them whether it’s intimate glamour, maternity, wedding, or their babies.

My personal thoughts on payment:  There is a lot of back and forth on newbies undercutting the value of the industry based on their perception of low overhead.  There is also a lot of tug of war between amateur models and photographers over who should pay who.  Really a lot of heated debate on what makes a professional photographer in the first place.  Some say if you make any money from photography your a pro, my personal opinion, and it is just that: my opinion.  If you can not survive off the income you make as a photographer it is not your profession, any more than if you have a desk job and wait tables on weekends you are a professional waitress.  It’s not a dig or an insult, that is just my personal definition of the word.  In that regard, when it comes to does the model or the photographer get paid, the simplest answer I have found is to look at the books.  Who has the better body of work?  For instance, while I politely thanked them and declined their offer, I couldnt help but laugh when a girl {a pretty girl but nonetheless} sent me a message saying she’d love to work with me.  When I responded that I would love to have her in and explained the general flow of the studio, she replied that her rates were $300 an hour, which I would have respectfully declined and admired her for if her entire “model portfolio”  didnt consist of mirror image snapshots taken in her bathroom and bedroom with her cell phone…. kudos to her if she can get other photographers to pay those rates 🙂  she was very beautiful.   I dont pay for models, and even some of the most gorgeous and talented models I know that are agency represented and do this for a living are happy to work TF* if it’s a special project that I have them in mind for.  Charge what you are worth, get paid for your time and your talents, be humble in the presence of those who can teach you, and dont underestimate how much a good model, make-up artist, stylist, can teach you about your craft.

the shot straight out of the camera, just for those questioning my retouching

One of my personal favorite models ❤

 

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I have often been told: It’s not what you have, it’s what you give.  In the last almost 3 years a lot of people have given a lot to help me get to where I am.  Particularly My husband and my kids.  I have worked 12-18 hour days, given a kiss in passing walking in or out the door so that instead of babysitting fees I could reinvest into new things for the studio.  People have been asking me a lot lately how I did what I did in such a short time.  For some of my new followers and friends here’s the breakdown:  I was a stay at home mom to a career soldier, I still have never had an education in photography or formal training, I have picked photographers I admire at the time for specific talents or specialties and learned what I admired in them and how to adapt that to a little JLark flare.  In 2 years I built a photography business, shooting on a home made backdrop in my basement.  We bought a new house with a separate building and garage that made my first studio space, and Michael built it from the studs up.  The next year I moved to a beautiful 1750sqft 85 year old house with all natural wood moulding and floors, beautiful architecture and lots of gorgeous natural light.  It has been an incredible journey in my own small world, and a unique and fun experience as people begin to recognize me and those I admire surprise me by referencing an image I created, or by quoting or retweeting something I wrote.

Quite simply, how I got this far is I worked really really hard.  And.  I have an incredible support system.  It exists on the foundation of support my family and friends give, and is most greatly nurtured by the professional contacts I have made, that provide inspiration, education and completely selfless support.  People like Scott Bourne and Skip Cohen who are two of the most generous and intelligent teachers I know in the business of photography.  A lot of the practices that allowed me to advance so quickly came from them.

So I’d like to pay it forward a bit, and share what little expertise I have.  I have much to learn with photography and lighting, and much I have learned that may be useful for new talent dipping their toes into the photography pool for the first time.  I do think my expertise lies in creating something out of very little.  Having small resources and little funding is my favorite challenge in creating something colossal.

The biggest question I’ve gotten is how I manage to cultivate all my business from facebook and not pay for any kind of advertisement.  It actually isnt quite that simple.  Your work has to speak.  If your images don’t intrigue people you wont get them in to look, if they dont look, they dont buy.  Most people understand that their website is essentially a store front in the digital world, and following that mindset, you should think of your facebook page as a second chain or a home office.

So lets start with your images.  {for the record all this is what works for me…pick and choose what works for you and fits into your personal and artistic style.}  First my pet peeves:  Only your best images.  one or two from each session.  I can’t stand when someone posts every shutter click from a session, less is more.  If you have one good shot it’s better to show just that one, showing it in the middle of mediocrity just dilutes the awe factor for the great image.  Second; and this is a huge one.  DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT!  Do not post the same photos in color, black and white, and sepia tone, or with different retouching and filters applied.  First off the majority of fb users understand, and most of them know how to change an image from color to black and white.  Secondly unless you are a retoucher and marketing yourself as such there is no need for you to show multiple versions of the same image, pick the best and show that one.  Thirdly the unretouched and retouched images showcase how much work your client needed, and I’m telling you as a girl who is incredibly self critical of herself in photos, one way to cause the exact opposite of your intended reaction in your clients is to showcase their flaws, instead of feeling good and beautiful you’ll make them self conscious and unhappy with themselves.  Mostly though it’s the look here’s an image, and heres the same image in black and white, and here it is again in sepia…it’s redundant, don’t do it!

On the to-do-list for your images, do try to connect with your clients,  as soon as I get a phone call from a potential client I go fb stalk them and send a friend request.  After their event or session pick your favorite image and post it, drop them a note on their page telling them how much you enjoyed photographing them and tag them in the image.  {If you’re like me and shoot more intimate images that may dictate what’s fb friendly, and you should always ask if you can post them first.}  Once you post it, anyone that comments on the image that’s a friend of theirs, touch base with them, send a friend request, thank them for commenting on the images you took and invite them in for their own session.  Do keep your albums current with new work, {I’m actually better about keeping my work up to date on fb more than on my personal website}  Do make sure that if you are showing some work that pushes the envelope of the fb restrictions even a little that you set the albums to private, viewable only by friends.  Out of respect for my clients, and because I’m a mom, I keep my profile private and limited mostly just to my online friends so young eyes, and people that dont appreciate the artistry dont come across it.

Splitting your albums into categories is a good idea too.  Unless you’re working with celebrities or people of note, I dont recommend setting albums as the clients:  Abby, Beth, Sara, etc.  You want your clients to find exactly what they’re looking for, and it’s much easier to do if a mommy to be finds an album labelled “maternity”  or someone interested in a boudoir session finds an album labelled that way.

Aside from your portfolio your best practice to bring in clients is {drumroll………………………… are you ready?}

Be nice.

When new fans send you a friend request after you accept take 2 seconds drop by their page and thank them for the request.  When someone comments on your page or image take the time to respond and acknowledge.  Here’s a big one, if another photographer, even one from your area asks you a question… answer it.  It’s a novel concept, but they can be your colleagues instead of your competition.  Think about it this way, if no one had shared any of their secrets with you you wouldnt know anything about this either, and chances are if they’re asking, they’re not as good as you which means your clientele is different anyway.

Facebook fan pages.  I have one.  actually I have 3.  one for me as an artist at http://www.facebook.com/JessicaLark one for my studio at http://www.facebook.com/CoutureManor that my studio manager updates more often than I do, and one for my charity at http://www.facebook.com/ChangeBeginsWithUs.  I hopped on the train of trying to get all my friends to become fans… to be honest I think upon further reflection that a lot of that is just self serving your own ego.  For most of us there is no reason why we need a fan page.  Here are the benefits though.  You can email all your fans at once without having to select them individually.  Other companies and professionals that have fan pages can list yours under their affiliated pages to help network and cross promote.  This can be especially beneficial for wedding photographers, you can hook up with caterers, florists, etc.  For example a good friend of mine Nicholas Clare is a talented baker.  The two of us trade clients all the time, and it works out for us both.  Of course financially because we’re both booking work, but I get delicious cake at the receptions and he gets great photos of his images.  We even save the clients time by doing both consultations at the same time, and he helps me seduce them with delicious Chocolate chip cookies that my kids beg him for everytime he comes to visit.

The other major difference between fan pages and personal pages is that facebook tops out at 5,000 friends so for people like Jasmine Star and the like having a fan page enables her to keep connected with her fans beyond that.  Others like Jerry Ghionis simply make a second personal account.  The downside to the fanpages is you cant tag them in photos.  A lot of my clients tag me in the images I create for them on my personal page and their friends find me that way.  You may be losing referrals if you are operating solely off a fan page.  I also like the nifty little app that links my facebook to twitter.  that way everytime I do update my fanpage it also updates my twitter.  I pride myself on being friends with my clients and most of my fans, so I usually invite them to send me a friend request as well.  I met the sweetest girl this week at the going pro seminar who told me she was a fan but we werent friends on my personal account.  If that’s you as well, remedy it immediately, I want to know who you are! 🙂

So those are some of my thoughts on facebook, please feel free to add tips and tricks that work for you. A lot of this can be adopted and adapted for any business really.  I’d love to help you in your endeavors, running your own business is hard work but so worth the effort and really contrary to popular belief, people with strong work ethic and passion will thrive more often than those with training and education.  Please dont hesitate to contact me with any questions or topics you’d like me to talk about, If I dont know I can probably quote someone who does 🙂  If you’d like to ask me a question anonymously you can do so at Formspring

Thanks for taking the time to read ❤

One of the wedding cakes by my good friend at N Clare

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So a few weeks ago, one of my very dearest friends finally tied the knot.  I myself got married very young right after my 22nd birthday, and had 2 kids by 24… it’s taken a while for my friends to catch up.  When I got married I had never taken a class on or shown interest in photography aside from that of a person trying to savor significant moments.  Sometimes it amazes me it took me so long to find photography.  My wedding was a disaster except for the part where I married the love of my life, sometime I’ll rehash that whole scenario, but for this particular blog the thing worth noting is that I did not have a photographer and 5 years later it pains me to know I do not have one really good photograph from my wedding.  That has in turn very much put things in perspective for me as a wedding photographer in two regards.  1st that everyone should have fantastic wedding photography, as one of my dear mentors: Scott Bourne says “I have a very lovely photo of thousands of dollars of floral arrangements in an alley way dumpster, all the food will end up in the toilet, I provide the only thing they keep.”  It also keeps alive all the other things that otherwise would be lost.  The flowers never wilt in the images, the food always looks delicious and mouthwatering, and the moments and emotions exist forever.  The images I have are all poor quality, pixelated, and drastically under exposed… but seeing them brings me right back to that moment all the same; it’s not what they see when they look at your photos, it’s what they feel when they look at your photos.  You are creating the artistry of love.

Sara and I have been best friends since we were 11.  All of our most embarrassing and most fun moments have been together, I have laughed my hardest with her, and when I have cried my hardest she has been there every time to see me through.  So it was not an unexpected honor when she asked me to be her matron of honor, and doubly so when she asked my son and daughter to be her flower girl and ring bearer… the problem came in when we both also wanted me to do her photography.  Initially for me my first instinct was to be photographer first.  As we went dress shopping, had her bridal shower and bachelorette party, and prepared for the wedding I realized that a lot of me was feeling a great sense of loss in not being a part of her day, helping her dress, wearing a gown and walking down the aisle, holding her flowers as she held hands with her new husband and spoke her vows.  All the things I have captured for so many brides and their most important girls.  Even this sense of loss circled back to the photography for me though.  I realized what really was bothering me about her wedding was the same thing that bothers me about mine, the photos.  In this case that when her grandchildren look at her wedding album her best friend would not be in them.  Photos for me are in a way our own immortality I have listened to my own grandmother talk about her best friend and seen them age through 60 years and their friendship still exist throughout more than half a century.  For half a moment I heavily considered setting down the camera and replacing it with a persimmon gown.

I love wedding photography, and I love the symbolism and what they mean.  I really do give my all to my clients on their special day, I have played seamstress, decorator, planner, transportation specialist, nurse, and psychiatrist along with photographer and videographer.  I am not conceited about many things, but I am a great wedding photographer, and that is not only because of my ability to take a good photograph but because I care, not only about their day, and about their album, but about 50 years from now and what all of this will mean then.  Me as her photographer will mean more than me as her bridesmaid.  She had many wonderful women to stand up for her, and honor for a dear friend of ours that passed away a month before my wedding that could not be there for either of ours…. She had a beautiful day full of fun, and love, and family, and celebration and capturing all that artistically and preserving it… forever, was far more important to me and a greater gift to give her for the rest of her life and following generations, rather than being there just for the day.

Besides that my children represented a large part of me.  Cadence was adorable and so serious about her very important flower tossing duties; and Steven misunderstood ring bearer and heard “Ring Bear”  and promptly started growling.  Everyone found it so cute that they actually let him dress up as a bear and growl down the aisle.

I have resigned myself to accepting the fact that I will be always a photographer and never a bridesmaid.  I’m ok with that because I feel it is a much greater gift to give.  This image solidifies that for me, and really even though I am not physically in the photograph, each photograph is a sort of self portrait, and I know that I will as much come to mind in taking the photo as I would have being in it.

Congratulations to my very dear friend Mrs. Sara Benson thank you for letting me create your new family’s first heirloom and for the last 15 years and the next 50.

I love you very much.

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I have been told all my life, to have a plan B, to not put all my eggs in one basket, to make a 5 year plan.  I listened for a while…when I stopped listening I started being successful.  So here is my advice for young established and aspiring entrepreneurs:  Plan Bs distract from plan A, having one basket leaves you a hand free to multitask, and 5 year plans certainly leave far too much room for procrastination.  It is obviously no secret

that I have a strong depth of passion for artistry, my other secret love: I am a project starter.  I am exceptionally good at thinking outside the box and seeing how things can come together in unexpectedly intrinsically beautiful ways to create something better than what you are imagining.  People told me I couldn’t be a great photographer because: I’m a girl, I have young children, I’m too young, I don’t have a degree, I didn’t know anything about photography, you can’t make real money in any avenue of the arts, I don’t have enough business experience, I’m in too small of a town, I’m too personal, I’m too harsh, I’m too much of a dreamer.  Thank you all very much for the advice, and all of you were wrong.  in 2 years I learned an entirely foreign craft, built a business, opened my own studio, and now make more in a day than some make in a month.  Lately a lot of people, photographers and not have been asking me how.  Quite simply because I refuse to fail… and the thing about failure is, it’s

temporary, it only becomes permanent if you quit.  The thought of failure is enough to scare off most, and really that’s ok, because it leaves more room for the rest to shine more strongly.  Perhaps if they were wrong about me, they are wrong about you too…maybe you are wrong about you too.  I’m willing to bet with a different perception every perceived obstacle in your way right now is actually an asset in a different light.  I think for most the most daunting task is getting started: how do I start, what about creating a legal company? Taxes?  How do I price my products and services? How do I get clients in the door?  How do I cover my living expenses?  What if no one calls or buys?  Pretty soon that safe day job you were loathing a moment ago doesn’t look so bad, it’s comfortingly familiar and dependable and you reserve yourself to that being the grown up decision…only those daring enough to dream of something better ever create it.  I believe in you.  and I will help.  Whether it’s you or someone else telling you to put a pin in it and wait until the right time… it’s now.  Be brave.  You were destined for greatness…and some part of you knows it.

 

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