What an amazing year 2017 has been. It’s been a year of growth, revelation, and risks. And the end of every year, I like to reflect on the past year at some things I’ve learned about myself as a photographer, the good and the bad. We can all do better in every aspect of life, right? I know that most businesses don’t usually talk about the areas they are failing in, and I understand why, but I feel like there’s something about putting it out there, acknowledging your short-comings publicly, to hold you accountable. Same with the things we’ve done well in. At the beginning of 2017, we started with some senior pictures outside because it was decently warm for February. At the end of 2016, I realized that I had kind of faded away from the senior market in this year, and I was pretty bummed with that because I love senior sessions. It’s a whole new challenge of photography when you have one person rather than two (like with weddings and engagements). Also, the laid-back nature of a senior session is something I really like. This led to us doing pictures of Marissa and Fatima. Later on, through the year, they would model with us a couple more times for senior pictures and in early 2018, once it warms up, we’ll be going to Chicago for their full-on senior session! Through them, we were able to make connections with some other seniors (or some that were close to senior age) and do some senior style sessions of them too. For fading out of the senior photography game the past few years to coming back and having the opportunity to do around 10 senior sessions, I feel pretty happy with that. And already, coming into 2018, we already have a handful of senior reps and those interested in senior pictures! As I mentioned above, I’m okay with being transparent, because, in an area where I was failing (senior sessions), I was, thankfully, able to turn it into a positive.
With our weddings, one area that we are improving on this year is our turnaround time. Unfortunately, we had a couple wedding edits slip away from us and our turnaround time pushed one month. Now, I realize that this isn’t really that much time. I’m sure you know of someone that had to wait nearly a year to receive their wedding pictures. Sadly, this is an all too common story. However, for me, one month is just as bad as a year. It’s way too long. I aim for a 2-3 week turnaround, even though my contract states seven weeks. I really want to nail that two-week time range because if a couple goes on a honeymoon, generally that’s one week, another week to get settled in as husband and wife and get back into the flow of work. At that point, that’s when I want to deliver the images. By doing so, this leads to quicker turnaround when couples receive their albums and images. This is one area I’m REALLY going to tackle this year.
Speaking of albums, this is one thing we continue to do right. I’m amazed that not a lot of photographers in this area include albums. Some may offer them, but even with the ones that offer, not many offer the type of quality we provide couples. If I’m prideful in one area of my business, it would be in our albums. They are handmade in Italy and have a quality that’s unmatched. They are a little pricey, but when it comes to a wedding, the album must be of high quality because regardless if it actually is or not, I view the albums as a couple’s first family heirloom. If that’s the case, it needs to be an album that has great craftsmanship.
Last thing (not really but for the sake of a short blog) about weddings is that we have recently adjusted our packages to include even more prints. I send out questionnaires every year to our couples to check on a few things and one of the questions I ask is if they printed any prints. Of those that responded, 90% do not print anything. There is a quote that says, “the most photographed generation will not have any pictures in 10 years.” This is getting at that we do not print/archive anything. Trust me, I know all too well how this works because we have SO many pictures that we still have to print from our own images! We (society) put everything on hard drives only for them to be lost behind folders and folders of other images. Or worse, those hard drives fail. With albums, canvases and metal prints, we try to do our part to ensure that couples have something printed from their wedding. In 2018, in a couple of our wedding collections, we are printing up to 400 4x6s from the wedding and putting them into a handmade image box! They are just 4x6s and I know many photographers will cringe at the thought of such small images, but think about the generations before us and what they archived. Almost all 4x6s. I love large images and will continue to do large images because they are awesome, but I want to make sure to provide a good archive in print from the wedding too.
Lastly, family sessions. This is probably the biggest change of all going into next year. Before I get to it, we will still offer traditional large family sessions. With that said, smaller family sessions will be changing in a big, fun, new way! We are going in the direction of lifestyle family sessions. This includes babies too. This year, I had a session at Gatlinburg and it was just me since Liam was still pretty young, Natasha and he stayed home. For three days, I spent some time working on the business and reflecting on who I am. After 8 years in the business, I finally learned who I am as a photographer. I’m a story-teller. I know this seems so obvious, photographers capture moments, right? Not always. Look at the traditional family session, the traditional senior session or baby session. A senior sitting on the ground with a volleyball does not tell a story. It’s a portrait of a person and a ball. An image of a family standing side by side smiling at the camera does not tell a story, it’s a portrait of a family, that’s it. Not that these are bad things. It’s a style that people like and it works. But for me personally, I’m a story-teller, and the thing that drives me with photography is telling a story. Moving forward, our family sessions and baby sessions will be all about telling the story of those families. This can be in the home or outside. We’ll still do some shots of everyone looking at the camera, of course, but for the most part, it’s the family being a family together. Maybe it’s playing with toys, reading books, rocking the baby, fishing, maybe even time at the fair. Whatever the case, it’s all about telling the story of your family.
Have you ever watched Modern Family? There’s an episode where the family is getting a family picture and they are all dressed in white, and something happens where someone gets dirty. At first, one of the moms, Claire, is angry because she wanted this perfect picture. After a little discussion, they realized that their family isn’t perfect, this led to a mud fight between the family and an incredible picture and moment following. Now, I realize this is just a TV show, but there’s so much truth to this. I can’t tell you how many family pictures I’ve taken where moments before one of the parents is red-faced screaming at the kid to smile. I once had a family tell me before their family session, “I don’t want people looking at our pictures and saying, ‘Wow! They clean up nicely.’ I want people looking at our pictures and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s definitely them.'” This has always been my goal with family pictures, but especially now, it will be the focus. After doing a few lifestyle sessions and looking through the galleries, I can’t help but think how much more these images will be cherished over traditional, fake smile, images. I think about my own pictures of my family and what I would prefer to see up on our walls. I hate looking at myself smiling back at me. Surely, many of you can relate, not many of us like seeing our own face on the wall. But moments? I’m totally fine with that. Wrapping up, I know what you might be thinking, “I snap candid moments all day of my kids.” That’s true. However, who’s missing from those images? You. That’s what we want to fix. Generally, in candid pictures whether it’s on vacation or holidays, there is a parent missing from the pictures because they had to take the picture. We want to allow the whole crew to be together and not have to worry about missing moments with their kids because they were taking the picture.
I look forward to the next year. If you read this entire blog, I thank you! It turned out to be pretty long! haha I’m so thankful for 2017 and the people we’ve had the honor of working with. I continually feel blessed that God has given me an opportunity to work in a position that I love and use the abilities He has given me to tell stories in a creative way. All this said, I want to finish up this blog with a Bible verse that has been our family’s verse for the past year and one that continues to encourage us – Matthew 6:26-34 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.