Defining Your Style: Advice for Established Studios
We're talking about finding your your your style, defining your style as a beginning studio intermediates to you so now let's get teo an established studio how do you find your style? And I would consider this I would make the army this is where we are now in our business once you get to that kind of four five year mark or further into your career that's where you're going to be out and so the key here is don't get stale with your work it is too easy to get comfortable don't get comfortable don't get comfortable, man and I like to challenge my team thing all the time is are you uncomfortable? I want to make you uncomfortable because the minute I can push you hard enough to get you uncomfortable great things start happening and it's too easy for all of us to want to get to that comfortable stage would you start? Hey, this is what work last year going to do it again this year and that's a great way to get stale it's a great way to lose your client base and so everyone expects you to star...
t getting stale okay? And we can't do that we can't let that happen we don't want to become our parents photographer think about it how are you gonna get that high school senior toe hire you ok if you're photographing the same way that you photographed her mom or even her sister and so for us we haven't been in business long enough to be worrying about we did your mom you know, twenty years ago that's that's not where we're at today, however, we have been in business long enough to see simple siblings come through and the one thing we challenge ourselves to is when that sibling comes through, we we want to make sure we do something different there for them and that's a challenge man to read reinvent yourself every time they have to keep in mind if you're that established studio, there are the newbies coming in that are hungry that air added that air defining their style that air going after clients. So you've got to be aware that and know that you do have competition. So what are you going to do to stand apart from the newbies? How are you better? How are you providing better customer service about her experience and here's the dynamic that most you might not understand when you're an established studio, which is where we are today what's happening? I've got a ton of local photographers trying to emulate and imitate my work, right? So now all of a sudden my unique style in in my area isn't so unique I've got people copying me that's ok that's flattering but it helped it hurts my business because how do I continue to stand apart from its growth rate went from this toe leveling off more so now things are becoming more stable more of a plateau you're not having that extreme growth that you had in the beginning so it's getting used to that but it's also a scary place to be because we're used to that increased growth of just the craziness of it but now it's leveling off you can it's easy for it to start going down from there it's exactly right and the two challenges there like I said, number one is you've got all these people copying your work they're hungry on your starting the plateau you're not reinventing yourself you're not looking for inspiration anymore and so what ends up happening is you see this influx of newbies this is why the established two years don't like movies because they blamed them for everything that's wrong but in truth they are part of everything that's right? Because it's that new blood that brings in new ideas and so you should be looking so what those trains are um don't look though at this stage of your career you cannot look to other photographers for inspiration that is the worst thing you could do for me that would be looking in my rear view mirror I don't want to see what other photographers there doing I want to look to the future and keep doing things differently and for me I looked to hollywood for inspiration look to cinema you'll never for us once we started doing video and offering cinematography we have never been able to watch a movie the same way and I know it drives you nuts but when we're watching movies I'm out deposit in the middle of an action scene I like look out blurry that's it all right well I'll rewind I'd be like look on this side he's on the left side of the screen in this cot he's on the other side of screaming from my hair is part of the way anyway but that's not the inspiration we're looking for but what I'll end up happening is you just won't look at movies the same way anymore and I use hollywood for inspiration whether it's coloring toning oven overall film lighting of an overall film that is a great way to get inspiration for your photography and have that cinematic look I like to think it matter again what do you think of my work it's got that cinematic look and feel to it we sense what our minds tell us music videos how about looking to history and art right? So I mean when we were when we were over in europe we just sat there in the museum's looking at art pieces and I'm telling you look, I'm not going to recreate you know ah mona lisa but I'm looking to the great artists of the past as inspiration for the future and that's the kind of stuff you want to start doing as you get to the stage your career, because I would make the argument as you're starting off, you don't really know enough about art. You don't really understand enough about lighting to even appreciate what you're seeing when you look to some of the great artist, I'm curious as an art teacher, what do you think about that concept? I'm saying right now, I mean, how do you see the world being our teacher I and adding photography to being in our teacher has totally transformed that for me to, um, much like what you were saying about not being able to watch movies the same way? I'm constantly looking at billboards and, you know, the sides of buses and graffiti, and I mean everything that I see, I'm just I'm kind of a magnet for just kind of absorbing everything and processing that. And so that's, why there's always a lot on my plate, my mind is always going in forty two thousand different directions because I'm I'm constantly just, you know, taking in those ideas, and, um, I don't even realize when that comes back out in my work, sometimes, like I just see everything that I can see and like, if you look at my facebook page right now, there's ah, a couple image that I didn't even notice it until I had taking it all the way through editing. And I was like, oh, my gosh, this looks just like the princess bride, you know, it was it just comes out without even trying sometimes and that's okay, you almost have a leg up. I think, in having that art appreciation and understanding the key is at this stage of the game for you can you translate that our appreciation into your style on body of work that becomes the challenge. And so for me, I went the opposite direction. I knew nothing about art. I knew nothing about right that part of the business. Oh, our world, I should say. And then I started learning about it as I grew a business person. But you said something I don't even know if you realize that another question I get asked all the time. How do I find? Okay, this is another exercise that when taylor narges driving randomly, I am like in the car. Looking left looking right. I'm like, look at that wall, right? And we'll stop. I'll take a picture of that wall. I use an app called pocket scout. I don't know if you guys have heard about it. I've talked about it before it's, not even an expensive app, but this app pocket scout allows you to take a picture of a location. It'll tell you where the sun was, what time of day you took it on it'll gps it's so that when you want to go back there in a future day, you can see it's an amazing little app. I find it to be very valuable, but we are always looking for spots, graffiti walls, things like that to continue, teo, grow our business let's come back to being established. The key here, your ultimate goal. My ultimate goal at this stage of our career is to get clients to connect and relate to our work. If they can connect and relate to our work. How much in charge is a relevant? That is the main reason I believe our business has grown the way it has is because our business is not price sensitive. Photography in general, I think is very price sensitive, and I've talked about this in the past. Price sensitivity is tied to your client and your product. No matter what product you're offering in the world, ok, could be soda could be a happy meal at mcdonald's. You can on ly raise prices so much before clients will stop spending money if your product or service photography is viewed as a commodity, product or service. Okay, that means it's very price sensitive. If they raise your price by one hundred box, suddenly clients won't book you. But if your product or service is seen as truly a unique product or service, there is no longer price sensitivity to it. Perfect example. Let's look att automobiles. If you look at automobiles and you look at a ferrari, is the person who's gonna buy a ferrari that is gonna pay three hundred thousand dollars for a ferrari? Will they pay three hundred thirty thousand dollars for ferrari? Yeah, they really don't care what price it is. They want that luxury high end item, but the person looking for the lowest monthly payment possible because they just need a car with four wheels to get them from home to work homely school. They will make a decision based on twenty dollar, so a monthly payment that's, twenty dollars, more or less, one one direction or another will impact that that car purchase the key for your business at this stage of the game is to get out of that price sensitive area and get into that point where you are viewed as an artist and you are viewed as a unique artist offering a unique product or service, then price sensitivity isn't there, and I'm gonna jump to some of the images that are images we take and create today. This is more of my style that you're seeing of us being in places we're not supposed to be. This is a rooftop of a building downtown st louis, you will more than likely never see another photographer in st louis get an image like this because they can easily copy it and go up to this rooftop. My bride climbed on a ladder, we had to get on an elevator in a building we weren't supposed to be in. I just took her in the groom we ran into that building went up to the rooftop, put her on a ladder, then on a garbage can up onto this platform on the roof to get this picture. As you can imagine, this is something they purchased in a thirty by forty acrylic for their home, because my motto, they've never seen anything like this, and so they will lit with off camera flash. So think about the time frame I was trying to move in think about the story behind the image that we created for the client the client's coming down off this image and they're seeing it there slideshow that night at the at the wedding reception and we show them this image and they're talking all their friends are like oh my god you won't believe it we're on this rooftop and we were doing this and we were doing that and we weren't even supposed to be up there I mean look we've gotten close to the edge of the building uh it's just a it's a danger factor but my clients go nuts for this kind of work not only did they go nuts for and spend money but when this is all my website and people are looking at this what kind of client am I attracting that client who's going I don't care what I have to pay I want an image like that from my wedding saying here is we go through when you are this came up earlier when you are shooting at these kind of like out of the way or locations or kind of a little bit more dangerous like you said is something where you just like you're like no go ahead just do it or is it something you've talked about beforehand and kind of worked out with them? No, I'm really that planned I'm very uh I don't know kind of off the cuff, and so when I see an opportunity like this, we jump all over it, so I don't have necessarily have a shot like this planned with my client because I didn't realize we were gonna have the ability to get to to this spot. So no, this is something that's, you know, just very off the cough on dh that's, how we do things, and I think that's part of that experience is part of what our clients that's how sound is thing again, I'm very different, so I have a lot of anxiety, but for my shoots, and so I actually drive to each location I'm going to and plan out each pose that I'm doing in each location so that I have a well thought out plan and know exactly what I'm doing, and I know I'm going to get the shots I need to get gosh, that's a good point let's, let's, stop here for a second, because I guarantee we should probably talk about the differences of how the two of us work on a given event. So glad. Sorry interrupt you, but yes, we are very different with how we, you know, run, run our day so on a day for you, a typical wedding day back to it, yeah, I'll go like thirty minutes early before we have to get there and drive around to the spots where I'm going to do the creative pictures now if something like this popped up of course I'm going to try and take advantage of it but I'm more than likely wouldn't have my bride stayed in a trash can because I'm more worried about hr so that's just something I wouldn't I wouldn't be that risky but that south it works for south for me I don't know that it would work and so I'm a little more planned I like to have everything thought out yeah so there's there's a difference between are the way we work yet it still works for the studio the imagery is still consistent sales are still consistent I just like pushing that edge a little as far as I can go to get some great shots so you know shot like this here we are again downtown urban area you know her grandfather had access to a car and during that during the creative pictures from the wedding we made sure that we found a spot where we could pull the car and do some cool stuff we had this car maybe thirty minutes for the whole shoot so we wanted to make the most of it and you know to me that's an image where we've got connection there in love on I believe this actually won an award at w p p I it's a very, very cool image you know, you look at an image like this this was taken in kansas city this is the performing arts center in kansas city and what I love most about this image is we went for this look, we wanted this kind of blueish tent cinematic you can you can go and watch movies and you will see them have this this editing style that cool tone editing style and that's what we wanted for this image we want toe look very cinematic that's why the clients are looking off they're not looking at camera that's why the lighting is coming off camera we want a directional hard lighting hitting them I wanted that cinematic look so from an execution perspective executed well properly I got the look I was going for from a sales perspective this is an image my client's love now this particular wedding was friends of ours we photographed our friend's wedding don't ever do it again we were in the wedding we were in the wedding and had to photograph the wedding it was the most miserable day of my life but this is one of my best friends so you know, we were happy to be there for him but I knew I had to get something that was just amazing for him right here's ah recent engagement shoot we did in d c once again we're national monuments you're supposed to have permits when you're shooting there hogwash we're going to go and we're going we're going to go do get our stuff get chased out of there and the client loves it and this is a shot the client purchased right? So here you are with again very architecturally based images that how could they get this in an eight by ten it's just impossible they would be a speck in the frame so along those lines big red dog tl says dis I'll get permission from the location to use them I think you just answered that if not does what fun would that be if not does I believe what wash was the answer, right? Right so second part if not does he explain to his clients that there trespassing and subject to being thrown out or arrested? Yes, I explain that to them and they usually smile and they say let's go for it yeah, that ain't ends up with the overall experience. My clients actually love that part of working with us and that evolved over time and I can point back to that one image I shoulder which was in chicago on the l that was the first time we've ever gotten chased out of the location it was exhilarating I loved it I think that must be the new yorker and I was standing there like that yeah, way, so but anyway, but that that's kind of my style, right? I'm not encouraging everyone to go out break the law, sal told me to that's a bad thing, but what I want you, what I'm trying encourage you to do is think differently see differently and pushing limits and challenge what's out there because you would be surprised we posted this on facebook. How many photographers from kansas city have only photographed one wedding out there? How many photographers from kansas city wrote on my wall saying, I've been in kansas city my entire life been a wedding photographer, I've never taken that image, I've never seen that image taken before, so you know whether anyone has taken that image, I don't know, I'm not saying it's a complete original what I'm saying is it's not an overdone image, so from my client's perspective, they're seeing it in there going this is amazing. I've never seen anything like this. We want this as a big print, and that has to be where you're trying to get as an established studio. Yeah, do you have any sort of, um, nervousness or like resistance from, like the parents of your seniors when you go into these like urban, possibly little shadier locations like, does that ever become a concern for them, and how do you deal with that? You know, when they begin today, it's not a concern, but when we started out, it was because we would go into these shady areas and they are shady areas in st louis, because st louis is like, what top five per capita murder? It was the most dangerous city in the u s s so it's kind of interesting, interesting place, but eh? So we go over there and they are we're from o'fallon, illinois, right? So we're on the illinois side of the river it's kind of funny it's fifteen minutes from downtown st louis so we're in the st louis metro. So st louis is our market, but these people have, like, I've never been to the city yeah, they're like we're going into the city or we're gonna be okay can I leave my doors on lots of like, yes, we're going to be fine, so but yes, so in the beginning it was very much a concern today because there's been so many people have a positive experience it's almost expected, but as a woman, I won't go the same spots that's out. Well, you know, if you I wouldn't recommend either sal will break into abandoned buildings where homeless people are sleeping and take pictures and they're very quietly I would never, ever do that so if you want to do that like break into an abandoned building you know there's homeless people bring a six pack do it works every time so when we go in there with weddings I'm not kidding you I get the groomsman I'm like give me some deer we go in, I start talking to the homeless people and I'm like I'm like a man we're going to take some pictures here and I had resistance one time because I was in my home is where we live you can take him dude I got some beer you guys go he's like he's like two cold cool dude go upstairs there's a second floor because there's a cool wall up there mike all right, so you know, you just got it just gotta kind of work and what do you think happened in that situation? Because it's not make believe that really happened? What do you think from my client's perspective they're talking about of the night all night that's all they could they could talk about so that's back to experience that's back too building your brand and who you are. Yeah, so did boston is in the lounge telling a story to everyone about how he was cuffed him and a model were cuffed and he told the cops to let the model go because she had no idea that they had broken into the joint so also other people are very similar story continuing that like the cop then let them go and finish the shoot right right there going I mean, but but on the other side for a free family shoot to the conscious way free family shoot to the cops fail fail filled your business serious question though avoid the lloyd says should a photographer have some type of insurance when you ask people to climb or do something out of the ordinary? Do you do you consider that when you're when you're doing that? Absolutely we do have an insurance policy, we have million dollars three million dollars liability insurance policy and I think you have to not only because you're going to do crazy things with your clients, but because what if someone trips over your bag which to me is a more practical what is coming steals your bag someone steals your bag we've had that happened where somebody stole lens from us. We're in new york city photographing one of our lenses disappeared with five cameras disappear so these things are going to happen in your business and if you put it on your homeowner's policy, you can typically get a million three million dollar policy for very inexpensive I mean, I think it's less than five hundred a year something like that s so you definitely have to have that so good good point and once again you know to that to that person is pushing those limits I love it because I find that experience like that is usually a memorable one now he was working with a model but he was working with a family or senior or wedding party that would be good but I would love to see cops trying to rest like a twenty person wedding party for trespassing ninety nine percent of the time they're not going to that just gonna tell you get the hell out of here but man we would get some good pictures if my bride gotta rest hr hr yeah, we would definitely need to talk in town all right so I need you to get out there start shooting start going after style I shoots this is a point in your career where you are leading you are moving forward. I showed pictures yesterday from that nineteen sixties madman inspired shoo those are the kind of things were starting to do to move forward to get our business out there and just do things differently let me give you some perspective on that we did that nineteen sixties madman shoot we did it as an educational resource the model in there's also a client so she's you know, she's a real person she's not just a model we hired online we've we've worked with her in our family for a couple of years now so we do this and the magazine the local st louis bridegroom magazine is the biggest wedding magazine in st louis c some of these images they see these images and its sparks interest in them they said well what if we did a vintage cover shoot for the next issue of our magazine so just buy me doing this pro bono work right of this style I shoot that has now led to the cover of the next st louis bridegroom magazine think about the buzz that that's going to get our studio just from doing that work for free so I did that work for free not lead to the cover and now the hotel is going to be using that image those images in their marketing their pr company already wants them so those pictures are gonna be all over st louis free average free advertising not only that when we do the vintage photo shoot for the st louis bridegroom magazine they're blocking off the entire street for our new building so they want to use the building because it's an old building they want to use that they're blocking off the street that's going to create buzz in my town right cause now in the town people going what the hell is going on? Why is this all blocked off? They've never seen anything like that so they're going to think it's his huge photo shoot we're pulling up in nineteen sixties uh girls rolls royce for this vintage shoot, these are the kind of things that start coming out of doing things for free so just think of all that exposure and branding and marketing in our local community just from doing that one photo shoots and being a pr machine we know how to do something like that and turn it into a major, major event and that's what you have to do as an advance studio, you have to remember that you're not the new its studio that everyone wants to go to three and four years ago the seniors would call and they say, well, everyone said we have to go to sell you're like the popular place to go we were shooting one hundred fifty seniors a year fast forward to now that's not happening anymore, there's other news studios that air cropping our style copying our ambassador program, which is great, but we're not the new its studio, we're shooting maybe forty seniors a year, but we're aware of that. We know we're not the new in studio, so we're trying to offer another level of experience to our clients. We're trying to make ourselves a little more exclusive, so the people that do come to us are getting an experience that they're talking about and we're moving to a higher level of client so it's about adapting to those changes being aware of the market and knowing that you're not always going to be that newbie studio getting all the rage that you're going to become that established to do what you gonna do when you get there you got to keep reinventing yourself senior stylized shooting a swell yes so that's the next thing right is that style I shoot for seniors where you're spending the entire day with them on you've got wardrobe in and concepts and things like that so but how did we start this? It started with an idea it started with a concept and then we went off and executed if you guys think that's a good idea for that style I shoot I don't understand why in the next break you're not making phone calls to get things in motion, right? So you've got it can't wait you've got to start executing and that's how it was for us I think we were on a plane somewhere me, you and eliza and we started talking about this idea and then all of a sudden within forty eight hours there was a date on the calendar where this shoot was gonna happen and we had nothing else set up except the date on once that date gets out there it becomes really and you have to start making making it happen, but again I need you to see the sequence of events we did this free shoot this is going now now when we go to the bridal show on sunday so we have a bridal show this sunday we're gonna have pictures that people are going to see and hear about this style I shoot now engagement couples going back what can you do something like that for us? Of course right now we're again a market leader verse we're level with everyone else we've got to continue to find that way to go next level uh do something you're not known for get uncomfortable that's the whole thing if you're comfortable every day when you're behind the camera you're doing something wrong get uncomfortable that's what's going to force you to experiment and do and do new things and fail right? You're going to try something you're going to think it's the most amazing thing in the world but your clients are gonna go I don't like it great try something new as an intermediate studio we offer destination photo shoots for our clients so we shoot seniors what weddings engagements in different cities didn't charge anything extra goto advance we want to take it to the next level international so we've already had clients approaches there like, oh well, I'm going to beat my sister senior pictures I want to go to italy moms like okay so that's the next level international photo shoots bring it yes game on