About a year ago I sat down and tried to box my style. What is it that I am doing, is it modern, is it rustic, is it minimalistic, opulent newborn photography, is it shabby chic, timeless or quirky? I pondered. We “should” have a style, because our style attracts clients, right? This year I shifted my thinking completely and here’s what I realised.
My epiphany was fuelled by Luisa Dunn. Not only is she stunning inside and out, but the woman is wise. She is smart, but more than anything, she is wise. Her eye for colour inspires me every day, but when she writes, it’s equally engaging. Here’s something that opened my eyes and made me ditch my “style fixation”
“Last week’s client wanted outdoor dark images, yesterday’s client wanted all bed shots and no wool, today’s client just wants black and white shots. For those newer photographers who worry about having a “clear style”, my advice is to let your style be “great photography” …and listen, listen, listen to your clients. You want the images on their walls, not yours.”
It sounds simple, and logical, so why are we trying to define something that essentially only serves one purpose: makes us feel as though we have “a style”. I hear you, you want consistency, you want to be recognisable. You want people to travel miles to see you for your particular type of photography, that you are known for. But does it serve the client or does it serve our ego more?
There are many trainers out there, teaching newborn and baby photography. A famous photographer once told me that a good trainer will adjust their training style to make your existing style flourish and evolve. If I go by those words, it would mean I am pretty bad at this training malarkey, as I want to give all my students the tools to shoot many different styles. I want to expand your portfolio beyond your comfort zone. I want you to shoot something you’d never shoot otherwise. If you are used to shabby chic and heavy overlays, I will make you shoot crisp white and modern till your eyes twitch. If you never convert to black and white because it always looks flat, I will make you shoot for black and white and show you how to make your black and white crisp and glowing. I want your to have a wide range of tools, to never be afraid of your client’s requests.
You are a photographer. People come to you to achieve things they cannot achieve themselves, otherwise they’d be shooting their own babies. Basic DSLRs are no longer expensive. You need to offer something beyond a standard shoot and burn. Variety is it.
I hear a lot of photographers shooting a newborn session in one hour flat. What’s the rush? Unless you are charging very little and this level of fast food service is a part of your business model, then I’d encourage you to look at it again.
Customer service is everything. In every business, but it’s especially important in photography, as you are trying to make strangers feel comfortable in your presence, whilst they are going through something as exciting as a root canal. You will rarely find clients who are joyous at the thought of having their photos taken.
Shooting an hour long newborn session won’t give you enough time to build a good enough rapport but more importantly, won’t give you a chance to produce a varied gallery, with a wide choice of colours and setups. Remember the decision makers may not exactly have the same taste when it comes to photography. You may get mom who loves florals and dad who hates headbands and prefers high contrast black and white images. You are shooting for them both, not for yourself. You are the medium that channels their wishes and their vision because you have the skill set to make them a reality. This is your time to listen and ask questions. What’s their house like? Do they like plain or complex setups? What are their favourite images that you have taken? Why have they chosen you over your competitors? What are they wearing? Is it something modern with clean lines, or maybe more opulent? Listen to what they say but also read between the lines. Don’t assume. If you are not sure, ask. You are creating their memories, not your own. For those few hours, you are their “employee”.
Clients aside, if you only think about this little style issue from purely business perspective, this is how it works. Hypothetically you like to shoot dark images with heavy overlays. White is not your thing, and not your “style”. Your Facebook page is full of low key, warm, and brown tones. Now look at the business you can potentially attract. Let’s say there were 250 babies born in your area this month. Let’s say there are 5 newborn photographers. Let’s say one of them shoots every style pretty well, and is open to trying bright, dark, vivid, opulent, and pushes their boundaries a lot in their creative process. Let’s say you mostly shoot dark. Now out of those 250 new babies, 200 would like bright, airy photos, that would go well with babies nursery (those are rarely in dark tones), 10 wouldn’t mind either colour and are happy to go with the flow, and 40 new parents love dark, low key images. You are fighting over 16% of your available market that month. the other photographer, open to different styles, has the whole 100% of new parents potentially as his / her clients. You need to work pretty damn hard to make sure you are booked up, based on your fixed style, as you need to go after clients who love your particular type of photography, a relatively small pool of people in comparison to someone who shoots a lot of different styles well. See where I am going with this?
Don’t box yourself in a “style box”. Expand your skill set and comfort zone. Most of the time if you think you won’t enjoy it, it’s only because you don’t feel confident shooting certain styles and colours. Try them and try them again. Remember when you started your newborn photography journey and for a year or so never attempted froggy pose because you just didn’t feel confident doing it, then one day you tried it and now you don’t hate it as much? Adopting different shooting styles works in a similar way.
Give your clients the chance to choose colours and styles that you may not feel are your thing now. I am not talking crazy bear outfits. I am taking different editing style, more vivid, less vivid images, more close ups and macro shots maybe if you don’t do them? Black and white images if you don’t offer those. Unwrap your models if you tend to wrap them tight. Parents love their baby’s toes and skin, they want to see it. Are you shooting a lot of maternity sessions in beautiful gowns? Try nude maternity photography, try low key, silhouette shots. You may fall in love with the new you and in the worst case, you may make one mom out there very happy. xx
*Except for the hungry caterpillar outfit. This will never look good anywhere 😉