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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Professional Photographer Column: February 2014

COMMERCE OR ART?


A month or so ago I had a call from one of my great industry friends – he was in a bit of a bate because he wasn’t getting wedding bookings and he couldn’t understand why.  He asked me to look at his website whilst we were chatting and I immediately became engrossed in his beautiful work.

Kate…Kate are you listening?”.  I wasn’t.  “Ok I said – what do you want from me?”.  He asked me to tell him what I thought was going wrong.  Interestingly my immediate response was to say “yep, fine, but I need to take off my photography hat and approach this as a bride”.

So I did.  I tore my eyes away from the work and looked at his brand (which has been in evolution for the last 12 months).  I told him it lacked impact, was easy to forget and very masculine.  “But it’s clean and modern and mimimalist” he argued. 

I then sat and watched the homepage slideshow with different eyes and found myself noting the lack of colour and emotion.  And also the lack of consistency – not in style, no, not at all.  But in the sense that each image was stand alone, a one off, unrepeatable.  I could imagine that a bride might struggle to visualise how her pictures would look – she wouldn’t be able to get a sense of how her bridal prep might be photographed and certainly not what the couple shots might deliver.  It struck me that he had become not just a designer brand but actually couture.  

If you look up the word ‘couture’ on Wiki the kind of language used to describe it includes words like exclusive and one off.  ‘Considering the amount of time, money, and skill that is allotted to each completed piece, haute couture garments are also described as having no price tag - in other words, budget is not relevant. Each couture piece is not made to sell. Rather, they were designed and constructed for the runway, much like an art exhibition’.

I have no doubt that there are couples out there who are the perfect fit for his work but they don’t come looking for you.  By changing his brand and his style he had immediately cut off his previous referral system and was basically starting out fresh.  He needed to begin the whole networking and marketing journey again – but this time aiming at a very different audience.

The conversation didn’t end on a high.  But he must have agreed with some of what I said because 24 hours later he asked me to have another look at his website - he had updated his slideshow to reflect more colour and the emotions that all brides associate weddings with. 

I had a look at my own website shortly afterwards and was immediately ashamed of how old much of the work is. Updating the imagery is on my list of things to do, it’s just a horribly long list – that’s the problem.  I was also struck by the thought that I probably have rather a lot of photographers looking at it (and judging me) because that’s what photographers do…

And I became very aware that I didn’t like that thought.  Why?  Because my website does not represent me as an ‘artist’.  It is a commercial selling machine and absolutely not a vanity site.  I have been very careful to get the balance right between the type of images I love to shoot – given the right clients, location, styling etc and the ones I will be commissioned to shoot.  Not all of my clients tick the ‘ideal’ box but they are all prepared to pay me well to give them what THEY want.

As a lifestyle photographer it’s my job to find out what people want to get from a shoot and deliver it.  In the last 2 weeks I have had quite a few juicy print orders from weddings and 90% of the images in question are group shots.  The ones I least like to take… My other dislike is the cheesy family shot with everyone snuggled up smiling at the camera.  It tends to leave me cold and delight the hell out of the individuals in question.  These four images are a good way to illustrate how I always get the safe shots before attempting to pull some beautiful shots out of the bag that make me happy and feel like a creative soul.  I know which ones I prefer but I’m not sure that the family will feel the same.  That is why you will probably find them all on my portrait gallery (when I finally get round to updating it).

At the end of the day all I’m saying is that most of the time I am shooting to commission and answering a brief. So put the kettle on and pull up your website – your shop window – and take a look inside from your client’s perspective.  Unless you can afford to sit and wait for the perfect customers to come and find you.

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