“Can you shoot this style?”– That is the one question that is almost never asked of a photographer. However, if you have been in the industry for a while is the one question you wish your clients would ask.
Your clients are more likely to go and hire a different photographer that they like their “Style”. If you are like me, there is a really good chance that after 35+ years of shooting I have done that “Style” in my past. The problem is that it isn’t on my website, because I changed to the latest “Style” to get clients and haven’t changed it to a different “Style” lately.
Now the only time I have seen clients go to a photographer and asking them to copy a “Style” is when the person they want to hire is out of their price range. This happened to many who wanted to hire Anne Geddes. Today there are many who try and copy her style, but few ever are really good at it like her.
There are many pros who can do many different styles. Through the years I have done photojournalism, research photography, portraiture and many more.
For a client looking for a “Fresh Look” it is easier to just hire someone that they like their “Style” than to try and communicate to a photographer what they are looking for in a photo. Can you shoot some photos for us like the photo on your website?
So, what do you do if you are a photographer and seeing some of your clients leave you?
Throughout my career I have been to so many workshops and conferences to learn from the masters that I can no longer count them all. What is a common theme these experts shared as wisdom? YES!!!
Everyone has said you need to always have a personal project you are working on. Another way to put it is you need to push your personal “Style” and try new things.
I posted some of the variety I have shot here so you can see how much I have tried different things through the years.
The first five years of my career I rarely if ever used a flash. I shot available light. I learned to see light.
After years of using flash the latest cameras have let me return and do the natural light photography, but this time in color.
Today I mix light sources and do what I can to make the subject look the best and communicate quickly.
Most likely you will never get clients to come to you asking you, “Can you shoot this style?” You can go out and shoot a different style than they are use to seeing and send them your new work.
By the way, trying to do something new and different will stretch you and often you will find ways to improve your eye and your portfolio.
Red-Tailed Hawk [X-E3, XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 400, 1/60, ƒ/4.8, (35mm = 300)]
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Life is just difficult for everyone. When we just look at our own lives these struggles can be overwhelming. My colleagues in photography have gone through many years of turmoil.
Making the switch from film to digital was so difficult that many left the profession due to all the frustrations of learning what amounted to a knew language involving computers.
Since the introduction of the SmartPhone where anyone can take a photo and post right away to the internet the industry has been changed.
I am constantly trying to figure out how to be of service to my clients. The problem is that much of what I have done in the past with supplying photos is less and less important to clients. Many of the things they would call me to do, they now use their phones to capture those images themselves.
Most of those in my profession feel daily like they are in a crisis. They have bills to pay and the number of clients seems to be shrinking.
Do you try to understand others before trying to have them understand you? Success is not about you; it requires others. You need to help others reach their dreams if you want to reach yours. You need to connect to their memories, their desires.
This past weekend my wife and I enjoyed watching “Call Me Francis”. It is about Pope Francis on his path to becoming Pope, Father Jorge Bergoglio pursues his religious vocation in a country ravaged by a brutal military dictatorship.
It is a four part series. There is this one point after going through so many struggles in Argentina, he runs into a lady praying to Mary Undoer of Knots Novena. This resonated with him. When you see the story you understand how difficult it was to help lead the church in a country being run by dictator. More than 30,000 people were killed by the government when he was helping lead the Catholic church.
The devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots has become more popular ever since Pope Francis encouraged the devotion in Argentina, and then spoke about it during his first year as pontiff. The theology of the devotion actually goes back to the second century. Saint Irenaeus wrote that, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.”
I personally just pray to God for all my requests. I do find that a book of prayers sometimes helps me find the right words for where I am in life. Here are some daily prayers for Mary Undoer of Knots.
“We’re taught how to raise our hand to answer every question. The problem is that leadership, that building an organization, is all about knowing how to help others raise their hands and answer questions.”
GE CEO Jack Welch
We get so busy with our stuff, it’s easy to forget others’ needs, and our affect on them.
There is one other way you [especially me] that we are too inwardly focused while we think we are outwardly focused. Can you imagine a business that never focused on reaching new customers? However many of us [myself included] are focused only on those we know.
Strategy Question for You
Do you have a strategy to reach out to new people for your company? What are you doing this week to talk to someone new? Do you have a list of people to talk to you don’t know?
Maybe the knot you need to pray for God to untie is your resistance to actively looking for new clients.
Twenty-six years ago in 1993 I started my new job at Georgia Tech after just graduating with my masters degree in communications. The very first project I was assigned was to use the new Nikon Scanner to help start a computer catalogue of the photos shot for our department at Georgia Tech.
I tried to design a system using Filemaker Pro, but found the software that came with the Nikon Scanner. That software was actually Cumulus.
I created the first computer photo catalogue system for Georgia Tech using that software.
In 2008 I was also given the same task for Chick-fil-A’s corporate communication team. I chose PhotoShelter as the system to handle the photos online.
PhotoShelter did a story on how we implemented their online database system. Here is that link.
I have consulted many different businesses, nonprofits and colleges through the years helping them setup their photo catalogue.
I have written about Metadata and the International Press & Telecommunications Council a few times on this blog. I recommend using PhotoMechanic for embedding your text into your photos, so that they are searchable. You can also use the Adobe products Lightroom and Photoshop to do this as well. I just find that PhotoMechanic is the fastest and easiest way to edit and most of all deal with embedding metadata.
When you are adding content to the metadata and you click on the triangle on the right of the Keywords, you will get the pop up you see with what I use is the Structured Keywords.
You can type each of the words or you can use a database that is so much faster.
Carl Siebert has created two videos I recommend to help you speed up the process of creating keywords with PhotoMechanic.
I have created structured keyword lists for my clients as well as use a generic list for my own tagging. For example Chick-fil-A needs what I call industry specific lingo for their searches. This would be true for any business.
Google is the Gold Standard for search. Google continues to work on their system, so that when you search for something you find what you are needing. Now Google is very advanced. If you had 10 different people search the same word each of them will most likely get a different result.
You see Google knows your past searches and goes to great lengths to be sure your search results fit you the best way possible.
Most photo search fields for photo databases look similar to the Google search bar and you can refine those searches like I show here with PhotoShelter.
Andrew Wiard’s “Four Cs, Five Ws and an A” is missing what I think is key. Keywords will help your clients find your photos.
If you shoot an assignment for a client, they most likely will not need you to find those images. Clients will call and ask if you have a photo. They will then describe what they are looking for from your collection.
Do you have back to school photos? Do you have beach photos? Do you have bad weather photos?
While you can remember shooting a photo and find it, you will improve your ability to find your own images had they been tagged with keywords and not just a caption.
Too often photographers do a poor job because, “We Assume and Use Our Own Words”. We have to think about the client looking for a photo. Not the words we would use to find it, but they will use.
We often create databases that communicate something beyond the level of comprehension of the target. Use words your readers will be comfortable with.
Avoid using jargon or acronyms – and if you absolutely must use them make sure you explain them in simple terms. Think about the client. Be clear on what you’re trying to say and structure your words so that they make sense to your audience.
Click on the image above to go to fotoKeyword Harvester if you want to buy a keyword generator. It works great. Especially if you are new to putting keywords with your images.
You need to embed words into your images to make them searchable. The words you use need to be the words that clients will use to find the photos and not the ones you would use to describe the photos.
You need good Keywords besides writing a good caption – that’s the 5 ‘W’s. Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Without this information a picture is useless for editorial purposes. There is no limit to additional details but these five are mandatory.
I suggest buying a Keyword list to start out with and then learn to create custom structured keyword lists for your clients and use PhotoMechanic to embed these into the photos.
One of the best ways to create a custom keyword list is to ask your client to do this for you. Can you give me the search words you would like to use to find photos in your image library? I did this with Chick-fil-A and this really helped me to help them find the photos they needed. You can combine that list with a traditional keywords list.
When you take these steps then you will make your images easier to find for your clients–as well as you.
There is a process to find and tell stories that communicate
how a company changes lives.
Before you can tell stories for a company the company needs a strategy. This strategy is most always built around increasing profits. If you are a nonprofit you are still most likely trying to raise funds.
Start with the question, “What does the company do for its customers?” Usually this falls into two categories from my experience.
First is they help their customers with a problem they are having and cannot fix on their own. A great example are plumbers that help unclog people’s pipes.
Second many companies provide an experience for their
customers. Great example of this would be Disney World.
Decisions are largely emotional, not logical. In fact, even
with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is
arguably always based on emotion.
Companies want to inspire their customers. This involves
changing the way people think and feel about themselves so that they want to
take positive actions. It taps into people’s values and desires.
The best thing to do is to tell a story. Stories don’t tell
people what to do. They engage people’s imaginations and emotions. They show
people what they’re capable of becoming or of doing.
The key is to find the best story that illustrates how your
company played the hero by helping a customer.
Make a list of some customer stories that you have played a
part in and get these elements for each story.
Identify your customer crisis and the needed help
What would have happened if the help was not received?
How bad was it for them? Bump in the road or was this life and death?
Are they available to capture their story?
Will they be willing to tell their story?
Once you have a good list of possible stories, go through
them and rank them from the most emotional to least emotional.
While you will try and do the story with the emotional
impact that pulls on people’s heart strings, you must be realistic and see
which one is doable. Which one can you get the best visuals to support the
For the past 35+ years I have been going to photography workshops and seminars as well as getting the industry magazines. 99% of all the information is built around building better photography skills.
I believe that there are basically two categories of photographers in our industry: 1) Gear Acquisition Syndrome & 2) Aesthetically Driven.
I would notice through the years that those with Gear Acquisition Syndrome which I believe is basically the source of stress based in the uncertainties that are part of the creative process.
I actually think most all photographers have a little of the GAS in them. It takes courage to create and the anxiety will always be there. Overcoming fear is part of this process and in the end finding personal success with life’s challenges is rewarding.
The reason for that GAS problem is that when we are at these workshops and seminars we see that some of the creative content is produced with new gear. Time-Lapse and Drone Photography are two of the biggest things I see as motivating people to buy more gear to get something creative that they cannot do with their present gear.
Sooner or later you end up in the Aesthetically Driven camp. You are looking for images that have impact.
If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.
I watch as more and more photographers pursue interesting content. Many pursue wars, refugees, medical crisis, and so on. Many are treating people more like objects for their photographic prints. There are still some who are using the camera to move people’s hearts to take action to improve the world.
Too many are thinking that they are playing Checkers. They should be playing Chess. The problem is they see a game board with 64 squares, but the similarities stop there.
How to Make Money
The one thing that is missing for most trying to make a living in this industry is understanding of how a company makes money. Too many people think if they know how to make photos with their cameras that people will want to hire them.
Most photographers call around and ask if people need any photos taken. While there are many ways to do this the problem is this puts the average photographer in the category of a commodity. Once you are seen as a commodity like wheat, barley, sugar, maize, cotton, cocoa, coffee, milk products, pork bellies, oil, and metals it is almost impossible to make a living. The reason is simple there is always someone willing to do it cheaper.
How to avoid becoming a commodity
Say no to low prices. If someone wants your product or service for less than you are offering it, and you say No, then you are holding firm. There is no chance you are a commodity if you do this.
Price yourself higher. I know of some people who came into markets and made a killing because they priced themselves as the “Fine Jeweler” in a market flooded with “Walmart” priced photo services.
Know your value. If you believe in your value (because it is good value) then this will make a huge difference.
Copyright Knowledge & Cost of Doing Business isn’t the Secret
Too many photographers go to the seminars about usage rights and then start doing quotes based on this new knowledge and often see they are losing even more business. Others figure out their bottom line and discover they need to charge a minimum and when they put that into place also find they are losing business.
You see all this is being focused on you. Don’t get me wrong you need all of this knowledge to be successful, but that isn’t the key. Those are all necessary. But the compass for your business is the customer’s needs and desires.
Questions you should be asking
Why does the customer need this to improve their business?
What are my clients problems?
What could help my client communicate better with their clients?
What makes my client better/unique as compared to their competition?
How can I capture with my camera something that will communicate how they can help their clients make more money?
How can I create an experience for my client that makes them enjoy life better?
Who are your customers?
Focus on Customer Experience, Not Customer Service
When you interact with a client that is customer service, but when you are not there and the customer interacts with something from your business that is an experience. Customer service is critical and important, but it is only a part of the customer experience.
Maybe you are a wedding photographer and the people loved you and your team at the wedding. That is all about customer service. When you posted photos throughout the day of the wedding to social media and their family and friends were able to see them on their wedding day even if they were not there, well that is customer experience.
The photographers that turn around images quickly as compared to those that take 3 to 6 months to get the photos to the bride and groom create a better experience. When your photos capture precious moments and tell their story better than they could imagine–that is customer experience.
You need understanding of what drives profitability and cash flow, a market-focused approach to the business and an overall big picture understanding of the business and its interrelationships. Each of the pieces of your business are more like the pieces of a chess set. Together all of them are different and help you play the game and win.
Your Biggest Mistake
You discover that the 64 squares you have been playing on are a different game than you thought you were playing.
You have been trying to move all your pieces to the other side of the board, when the game really isn’t about that at all. In chess you can win in as little as two moves. It isn’t about taking all of your opponents pieces to win.
What is the objective of the game? What are you trying to accomplish? All those questions lead you to one thing in business. Those who get to know their client and see what they need to be success and do all they can to help them be successful in turn also become successful.
It Takes All Three
You need Gear
You need to be creative aesthetically
You need Business Acumen. Know how to help your clients make money.
[NIKON Z 6, Sigma 35.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/200, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 35)]
Many of us may feel like Joseph, son of Jacob & Rachel in the Bible. His story was made into a broadway show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Joseph repeated two of his dreams to his brothers, in which he was portrayed as ruling over them. In the first, the brothers were gathering wheat in the field, and the brothers’ bundles bowed to Joseph’s bundle. In the second, Joseph envisioned the sun, the moon, and eleven stars (symbolizing his parents and brothers) bowing to him.
This prompted feelings of jealousy within his brothers.
You can read the story in Genesis 37 if you haven’t heard it before or need to review it.
While all those dreams would become reality it didn’t happen right away.
The FaceApp which takes a photo of you and ages you was popular this week. It was a quick way to see into the future. It wasn’t long before someone read the fine print and realized you may be giving your data to a foreign government like Russia.
Patience Young Grasshopper
“Patience, young grasshopper” comes from a 1970s TV show called “Kung Fu”. David Carradine played the role of Kwai Chang Caine, a half-American half Chinese character in the old west who had been trained as a Shaolin monk in China.
The opening line to every show was the Master telling David Carridine “When you can snatch the pebble from my hand ‘Grasshopper’ it will be time to go.” Needless to say, the show went on for years before he finally snatched the pebble out of his hand. This, in turn, produced the saying to a young person, or any person trying to learn something that would take more than a day or two to learn, “patience young grasshopper” and it stuck all of these years.
Seeing the Prize vs Getting the Prize
Both Joseph and Kwai Chang Caine saw the prize. Joseph through his dream and Caine could see the pebble right in front of him.
I see all the time how I can help a client using my skills to help them attain their goals. So, why can’t they just see how I can help them? I can save them money, time and headache if they would just let me.
Does that sound familiar? I think all my photographer, writer and storyteller colleagues see every day with their clients how they could really help, but the client is for some reason not willing to let you do your thing.
Getting 20/20 Vision
I have found that often when I look back over my career that had I not had to wait to do what I thought I was ready to do I would have missed out on some experiences that prepared me to do an even better job for the client.
Had I not lost my job with the International Mission Board I couldn’t have then worked for Georgia Tech. I wouldn’t have gone back to school for my master’s in communication.
Without the masters degree I wouldn’t have been able to be an adjunct professor teaching photojournalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Georgia this past year.
When I first started working at the Hickory Daily Record in 1984 my skills were really limited. When I went to the International Mission Board I didn’t have things in my portfolio that said send Stanley to cover that story.
While working on my masters degree I had to work full-time to pay the bills. I was one of the first photographers hired with a new concept Glamour Shots. That was before PhotoShop days. I learned so much about posing and working with people to do headshots.
Going After What You Want vs. Letting Things Come To You
You do need to set goals. Going to college for instance is necessary for many jobs. You need to go after that goal in order to get the job you want.
Then there comes that point where even if you’ve done everything in your power to make it so you discover you can’t make it happen. This is where the letting things come to you part enters the conversation. At a certain point, we need to release control. Loosen our grip. Allow things to unfold. Give it up to a higher power, the universe, whatever. For me I pray about it and give it to God.
I do believe that what you need comes to you at the right time, even if you don’t quite understand it. My faith has taught me that God is in control.
I am learning that you need to let some things happen organically. This is where when a client brings up something you are ready to speak. It also means that you back off after speaking.
One of the best things I have learned is that Great Ideas also require the right season for them. Putting seeds in the ground is a great idea to grow something. However, it has to happen at the right time of year or they never will grow into anything. They actually can die.
Another thing I have learned that if you plant grass seed in the late fall it will grow in the spring. If you plant it early or later, the grass will not burst from the soil until the conditions are right. The right temperature, sunlight and water.
Prayer for Anxiety/Patience
Father, sometimes the wait is long and impatience gets the better of me. Forgive me and grant me the patience to await your blessings upon my life and not question your power.
Meghan Duncan & James Dockery catching up since their time together in Kosovo a couple years ago. This is Meghan’s second storytellers workshop. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 140, 1/200, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 24)]
We have a teaching schedule that requires the subjects to be available to the storytellers for a good 3 to 4 days at the first of our time in the field. Meghan’s person had some job come up at the last moment which through her whole project either out and we find a substitute or as Meghan pushed for was to pack all the process into a couple days.
Since this was Meghan’s second workshop Jeff Raymond decided to let her along with the support of Bill Bangham going with her on getting the b-roll to meet that deadline.
The success of the project has a great deal to do with how motivated Meghan was for what would require event later night editing than most.
Meghan was given this paragraph about Cesar:
Cesar became a believer while he was in prison. He became a spiritual leader within the prison and now wants to continue ministry as a pastor. He has started studies at the Facultad but is currently taking a break to get married. He is involved with a new church plant and will hopefully become the pastor of that church.
Watch how she got more by peeling the onion as we say in storytelling.
If you are passionate about theological education, start the conversation with ABWE here at abwe.org/go.
Storyteller Ken Robinson is listening in class to James Dockery teaching Adobe Premiere Pro. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 8000, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 105)]
Storyteller Ken Robinson was assigned Christian Aracena for his story. Here is the paragraph that he was given.
“Christian Aracena is a Facultad graduate who is currently leading a thriving church plant in Las Condes. They have an English translation available for their service which ministers to ABWE short-term missionaries and other expats (not just from the US). His one daughter is currently attending SCA, but his older daughter is struggling with English impacting her ability to attend SCA. They are currently homeschooling her.”
Ken wrote on Facebook, “Well it is finished! The Storytellers Abroad Missions Multimedia Workshops is complete. The finished product is more than just this video, it is the friendship and connections made and the difference in the lives of everyone on our team. We may never know the full impact our work until the other side of heaven!”
Watch the final story that Ken captured.
If you want to support the Facultad Teológica Bautista ABEM so they can help more students like Christian Aracena go here to learn more on how to do just that.
If you want to do a workshop like Ken did to capture this story then go here Storytellers Abroad.
Storyteller Catherine Gray is out early capturing b-roll of the Ciliniroglu children being dropped off at school. [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1400, 1/100, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 35)]
Storyteller Catherine Gray was given one of the stories that was to help ABWE missionaries running a school in Santiago, Chile. We asked the missionaries what they needed. One of the primary needs was funds to use as scholarships for the students to attend the school.
We then asked the team to identify some of the students/families that have benefited from a scholarship. They then gave us this information about one such family.
“Cuneyt & Claudia Cilingiroglu are parents of four students at SCA. He is from Turkey, and she is from Chile. Several years ago, they began a local business making muffins and desserts, but it had a slow start. As a result, money was tight. Through the Student Fund, SCA was able to reduce tuition to allow their kids to continue attending while the business got started.”
Watch the video, captured by Catherine, to see how ABWE stepped in and gave them more than just financial help.
If you want to support the Santiago Christian School so they can help more families like the Cilingiroglu family go here to learn more on how to do just that.
If you want to do a workshop like Catherine did to capture this story then go here Storytellers Abroad.