The Best Way To Improve Your Photography. Period.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to learning photography. Practise, reading and studying are all ways you can improve your craft and become a better photographer.

However, if you ask me there is one, single sure fire way you can dramatically and quickly improve your photography: Critique.

This applies to every photographer, no matter how raw or how advanced you are. As I’ve always said: “You can’t learn everything through your own experiences”.

Feedback from an Artisan

In early June I spent a day with Neil Buchan-Grant. A student of photography – a real craftsman with an eye for detail. After the interview Neil and I went out with the cameras and talked about all things photography and later, over dinner Neil was kind enough to cast his eye over my street photography portfolio. I urged Neil to be honest, harsh and not to hold back and tell me what he really thought of my work.

Whilst Neil was (I believe) very kind and diplomatic to me he did offer some honest feedback. It stung! Neil wasn’t horrible about my work at all, but with apparent ease he pointed out many things that were wrong with a number of the photographs and offered ways in which the photographs could be easily improved with a little post-processing alone. Following Neil’s feedback all that was wrong with my photographs became clear to me!

I just thought “Damn!”, but more than anything it made me determined to go out and make better photographs next time based on the feedback I was given.

I feel like I’ve come a long way photographically so I was gutted to hear the flaws in my work being highlighted. I personally love my own street photography work, my portraits in particular. Whilst that may sound vein, it is of course because I was there. I remember the moments I made those photographs and the moments that were behind them. I am emotionally invested in my work. Neil is not. So, with a fresh and unbiased pair of eyes Neil was able to offer so much value to my photographs because he is skilled, practised and honest. All components needed to make successful photographs.

My Guide to Critique

Although I already knew and appreciated the value of harsh, honest and open minded critique, I hadn’t really had a session with a photographer who’s work I adored like I do Neil’s. So on that drive home from Winchester I thought a lot about the process of critique and the benefits it holds. This blog post is borne out of that experience and these are my views on critique…

Seek Critique from a Photographer you Respect and Whose Work You Admire

The first thing I would suggest, if you don’t already, is to start making use of bookmarks in your browser, or at least use a notepad: make a list (or a folder of bookmarks) of all of those photographers you respect. By this, I mean photographers whose blogs you read and content you like. If you like their perspective on photography and that photographer resonates with you, great. But also, ensure you truly admire their work. Critique can sometimes be given excellently by people who aren’t necessarily the greatest of photographers themselves, but knowing that the person who is critiquing your photographs can actually produce the level of work you aspire to, goes a long way to giving their feedback some conviction.

So, like the person, enjoy their work, seek their feedback. Keep in mind though that you shouldn’t expect a response from everyone you approach. Be prepared for that.

Positive Feedback is Half as Valuable as Constructive Criticism

Be selective about where you choose to seek critique. Places such as Flickr, in my opinion, are wonderful places to get eyes on your photographs and people are very willing to also drop kind comments on your photographs too. However, kind comments are not always what you want. “Well done!”, “Great Shot!”, “Love This!” don’t offer any real value other than to let you know that the person in question likes the photograph you’ve posted. You don’t know why they like it. It is nice to get a pat on the back for the work you produce, sure, but instead why not look for the feedback where people point out what is wrong with the photograph in a constructive and helpful manner. Only then will you learn what you need to improve upon.

I’m not suggesting you seek out negativity, but just look to gain something more than confirmation that someone likes the photograph you’ve uploaded.

Take it on Board

It’s one thing to seek the feedback and then get it, but another to actually implement changes based on that feedback, or be conscious of what you’re doing when you’re next on a shoot. Rather than just seeking critique, actually take the critique on board. Consider what it is that person has pointed out or told you and then consider whether you want to implement a change, or research a method of how to improve that weakness in your photographic skill set.

Basically, listen to the critique and then apply it to improve. It sounds simple, but without this element the whole critique process falls down. What’s the point in listening if you’re not going to use what you’ve been told?

Have an Open Mind

Furthering the idea of taking the critique on board, you also have to have an open mind when seeking critique. Obviously, you’re not always going to agree with what people have to say, even if it is valid. Stubbornness can sometimes be a good thing, but other times it’s a good idea to listen to what others have to say with an open mind. If you’re not prepared to listen to the feedback of others, you’re not going to learn.

If you do decide that the way you’ve shot or processed an image is better or preferable to what someone says in a comment, that’s fine, but still give some thought to what the other person is saying, at least. After all, they have taken the time to write their thoughts down for your benefit. It would be courtesy to consider what they’re saying.

Be Selective

Taking one step back to the subject of stubbornness: sometimes, you may get critique, and it may well be very valid and fair, but you may still not agree with it. Your photographs are your work, you blood, sweat and tears. You have invested in making your photographs with your energy, early mornings and late nights – You do have the right to be single minded about your work and continue pushing on with a style of your own, even if others don’t agree. I’m not giving you the green light to ignore everyone’s critique, but I am saying you can leave the door open to sometimes not agree with someone’s feedback: perhaps that person’s feedback is based on their own preferences and styles. Maybe I’m repeating my previous point, but again remember people are taking time to offer feedback. They’re doing you the favour.

Don’t Take It Personally

We all know that when sitting behind a keyboard people are more bold and will often say things they may not say if they were sitting across a table from you. People can be more ballsy and more blunt. Perhaps more than they would ever be in the real world when talking face to face.

But that can be a good thing…

Having that filter removed is a double-edged sword: it may invite trolls – those people who are just rude and offer criticism (not critique), These people you can choose to ignore. But, having no filter as such also allows certain people to come along and offer feedback in a harsh and honest way – which whilst it may sting a little will certainly offer lots of value.

Ignore The Negative Comments (Trolls)

Further to the above of not taking it personally – even from the trolls. It’s in some people’s nature to jump on board and slate your work. Let them do it. Just ignore the comments and don’t get involved, otherwise you’ll just end up arguing with someone who is well versed at over-the-internet debates. Remember that your aim was to seek helpful, constructive and honest feedback – not spend your time getting involved in debates with people on the other side of the planet whose work you’ve never seen and are unlikely to ever meet.

So be ready to take the rough with the smooth!

Your Style & Approach Will Evolve Over Time

Some people are at different stages in their relationship with photography. Others may have just started, whilst others may have been around the block a few times so to speak. So when someone suggests that a selective colour version of your photograph may look great, don’t judge them. They may not know they’re committing a faux pas. Remember, that in the same way your photography style has evolved and your knowledge has grown – everyone else is on the same path as well.

If you’re not putting your work out there for critique because you think you’re not good enough yet, or because you’re not ready to do so, then when will you be ready? My answer to that would be never! The sooner you seek critique and start actioning it, the faster you’ll develop. Don’t wait until you’re better. Go and get better!

Think about a band or a musician you’re a fan of: over the years how have their albums changed? Their breakthrough album may have sounded ‘fresh’ and new at the time, but a few albums and a few years later I’m sure you’ll agree that their later work is more polished and has a larger production, making their earlier work maybe sound a little more ‘raw’. Well, it’s the same with us photographers and creatives.

Fashions, Trends and Style

Over the decades trends have changed. At the moment we’re apparently in the age of filters and effects. This point I’m making here is not a direct attack on filters and effects, but remember: just because it’s fashionable and popular, doesn’t mean you have to do it too. In fact, as I’ve said before being different is just as important as being the best (if not more important). So be wary if you decide to take part in fashions and trends. My advice would be to stick to what you enjoy doing and the way you like doing it, improving along the way.

Harsh and Honest Critique is the Best Critique

Don’t always seek validation from those you admire, but instead seek to please yourself

This may sound contradictory to what I said earlier, but there is a difference between seeking validation and seeking critique: yes, you should approach those whose work you admire for critique, but be careful not to get into the habit of just producing work to please those people. These people should be the ones helping you to define a style, carve out an approach and polish your products so to speak, but they’re not the people you need to make happy. If you shoot weddings, portraits, pets or any sort of photography where you have a client: it’s those people you need to make happy. It’s those people who need to love your work. Whilst they may appreciate the straight horizon and defined jaw lines, they may not necessarily care about a little bit of noise, or the bokeh or the extreme, fine details that the photographers you show your work to will point out.

Clients and photographers are very different audiences…which brings me to my next point:

Remember Who your Audience Is When It Comes To Your Photography

I’ve written about this subject already in a previous blog post. I want to urge you to remember who you’re shooting for. Are you shooting for clients, yourself or for other photographers? You need to know this and keep this in mind as it will impact the work you’re producing.

If you’re shooting for yourself it can be whatever you want. All that work has to do is please you.

If you’re shooting for other photographers then the chances are you’re going to be looking at producing the most technically perfect pictures you can.

If you’re shooting for clients however, then it’s a different game – Now you’re looking to make photographs that they’ll enjoy and as I mentioned before: they’re going to appreciate different aspects of a photograph to both you and other photographers. To a client the photographs are almost always about the moments, the expressions and the people. Not the technical elements.

Giving Critique As Well As Receiving Critique

Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Well, i would say that you should also give the critique you wish to receive.

Giving critique is also valuable. Stop to look at photographs. Inspect them. Don’t necessarily search for flaws, but instead look for what works in that photograph, look for the successful elements, the things that make the average photograph a great photograph. Then, tell the photographer who posted that picture what it is you love about it. Sure, mention the halo, or the aberration, or the wonky horizon, but be sure to be positive with your critique, be honest and be helpful. Don’t just beat people down. Be courteous.

What do you think?

No matter where you are with your photography I’m sure you’ve had someone criticise your work (not critique). When was the last time you received solid critique from a fellow photographer? Did you action or change anything as a result of that critique? Did that improve your photography.

I would love to hear your critique experiences – share them below.

Living the Dream

Daniel Brock has very kindly agreed to share an extremely thought provoking post with us here at Ready Steady Pro. RSP Community member and super-talented photographer Danny wrote this post (which originally features over on his own website) and it moved quite a few of us over in the Ready Steady Pro community. So we asked Danny if he would be so kind as to re-blog the post right here on the RSP blog.

You can also check out this post in it’s original format over on Danny’s website: http://www.photosbydannyb.com/blog/2014/4/22/living-the-dream

26267_386769795002_6942587_nI am sitting in my living room reading a blog post by someone who one day I would like to have a beer with (David DuChemin) waiting for our toddler to finish “pooping” in his diaper, listening to the all too familiar grunts and groans, anticipating with held breath the stench that will signal my time to deal with the latest “oh the humanity!” diaper change.

I mention these two things as a juxtaposition, reading something by David DuChemin and my role as a stay at home dad. Mr DuChemin travels the world photographing incredible places, living extraordinary adventures while I change a dirty bum…

Now before you feel sorry for me or lecture me with the cliche  (which I have preached to crowds of youth many a time) “follow your dreams”, I am! This is my dream, I have a great life. An incredible, beautiful, smart, talented wife, two beautiful boys who are indeed the “apple of my eye”, a house I would be happy to live in for the rest of my life, a dog and a cat. My life is a dream.

I have started over with little more than the clothes on my back four times in my 45 years (not counting the day I was born). Three of those times was to begin a new adventure, moving to a different continent, to a new phase of my life. One time was when the person I loved the most left me a note to say goodbye and “papers” from a lawyer.

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Back to what I am reading by David DuChemin, in a blog post he titled ‘Choose your risk David writes:

“The culture we live in would rather watch great stories on movie screens than live them. Why? I think it’s fear of risk. The bigger the risk the greater the potential reward but also the greater the potential for “Oh God, Oh God, we’re all going to die!” or something similar. Fear is the loudest voice in many of our lives. Fear of rejection leads us to buy some crazy stuff, as well as keep our voice down when it should be loudly telling others “I love you.” Fear of the unknown keeps us close to home. Fear of fear keeps us in therapy. So we’d rather watch Braveheart and imagine ourselves with that kind of courage than risk finding out for ourselves if we have it.”

Back to the life of a stay at home dad living the dream, beside the dad gig I also take pictures and get paid to take them. I have dreams for where the future of this picture taking will go and to be honest I hope it’s not at weddings.  😉

Now to the point of why I am writing; while I am living the dream now but I still have dreams for tomorrow.

Starting over so many times has taught me quite a bit about life and what’s important and maybe even what’s not. Let me list a few of these lessons learnt.

i. LIFE IS A RISK.

In my early twenties I moved abroad, thousands of miles away from my family and my comfort zone (fist starting over). No it wasn’t some third world country, it was the US, I moved to a resort town in Southern California. It was during this time I started experience a strange numbness throughout my body that was put down to stress.

It wasn’t until approximately four years later after I had returned back to Australia (start over #2), numerous weird numbness episodes, a serious rock climbing accident where I almost lost my foot and the insistence of friends and family I went to see a Neurologist. After I was prodded, probed and scanned I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

When the Doc told me I had MS an unpredictable Neurological  disease he repeated it twice because I think he thought I hadn’t heard. He was surprised I hadn’t reacted so he went into further detail and asked me if I understood. I had understood but I wasn’t worried because of my faith in God and because I knew life is a risk.

When I was in the States a good friend, one of the strongest guys I knew went skiing one day and broke his neck. The prognosis the Doc was giving me as a possibility in the future happened to him with a misjudged ski jump.

ii. STUFF DOESN’T MATTER, PEOPLE DO!

I had early on chosen. to give my life to others, being not smart enough to be a Doctor I chose the ministry. Regardless of people’s opinions, those who work in the church are not in it for the money. I went from the construction industry (good money) into Youth Ministry (not good money).

I met a someone, fell in love, got married and began our lives together. After almost seven years married, serving people together it ended for me with a note and those papers from a lawyer. Shattered, destroyed and lost but I had those people I was ministering to, those people I was in a church with… yeah? no!

People disappeared, we’re too busy, too elsewhere. To be fair people didn’t know what to  say I guess but still my friends were gone.

What I found through this dark time was that while some people may abandon you, others will stand with you. Those who I considered as good friends were absent but some who were a little more than acquaintances stood with me.

I was starting over again with no career, no family nearby but some of those acquaintances became real friends, became “closer than a brother”. They stood beside me when I married the woman of my dreams, the one who would become the mother of my beautiful boys, they stood with me and gave me the strength to stay in a foreign land where I met her. In a bit over a week, on the 26th of April I have been married to the woman of my dreams for seven years.

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iii. LIFE IS NOT EASY BUT IT’S WORTH IT.

I love challenge, well I at least I like the idea of challenge.

But really challenge is when we grow, it’s when we come through on the other side of the challenging times in our life that we will see how much we have grown. I have always liked how the Bible puts it in Romans 5, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Nothing of value comes without a price, without costing us. From a healthy marriage to becoming a skilled photographer requires hard work, requires an investment of time. The book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in any field.

The problem for many of us is that we give up long before we reach 10,000 hours of anything. Or we use the excuse that we don’t have the time to invest, if it’s important to you, you will pay the price!

Just don’t give up! I have seen people who lose everything, brush themselves off and then move on and live the dream. While others I see “living” in heartbreak, in disappointment, in fear of moving on so as a result they live the nightmare, again and again.

iv. HAVE A DREAM!

When you lose everything you can still have a dream.

This is where I could go into the stories of those people who were told they couldn’t do something because of various reasons and shortfalls only to pursue their dreams regardless and then achieve the impossible.

Well I’m not going to but I will say nothing can be achieved without a dream/vision/hope, whatever you want to call it.

I have this really weird, obtuse favourite verse from the Bible and it can be found in Ecclesiastes 9:4, “even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” If you’re not dead then you can still dream, you can still work towards accomplishing that dream.

When our first son was born I made him a magnet board (doesn’t matter what it was, not the point) and I wrote on the back a simple message for him, “Always dream, Always imagine!”

So as I sit here reading the words of a photographer who I have never met, who I want to be like, I can always dream and always imagine…

 PS. During the writing of this post I have changed two diapers, fed the toddler lunch, put him down for his first nap and am about to put him down for his second nap. Living the dream man, living the dream!!

About Danny

Danny is “Papa” of Dylan and Cody, husband of Hsueh Yee (Michelle) and takes pictures on the side.

He is a family lifestyle photographer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada (one of the coldest cities on earth). Originally from Newcastle, Australia he now has dual citizenship and is living the dream in Canada, for now…

 

Be sure to check out Danny online in all the usual places:

Website: http://photosbydannyb.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photosbydannyb
Flickr: http://flickr.com/photosbydannyb
Email: info@photosbydannyb.com

Measuring Success and your Meaning of it

The dictionary definition of success is:

“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”

 

Success will be defined differently by different people. Of course as the dictionary definition says it’s about accomplishing an aim or a purpose. So, to further define our own success we have to determine what our aims are and what our purpose is, right?

I would go out on a limb and say that when most people talk about being successful, they’re referring to making lots of money, or at least a ‘decent’ amount by their standards. Some people would say that it’s not all about money and more about happiness.

So if we’re not all agreed on the definition of success, how do we measure it?

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Many different successes in life

Okay, so if we’re going to view success as achieving something; a goal or a target, then one may say that in life you can have many different goals and targets. For example, get grades, get house, get car, find wife, have kids. They’re all various successes someone could have. But if someone achieves all those things where does that leave them? Does that mean they’ve achieved everything in life? Is that person successful?

I would argue it’s also a lot about how you go about your success and how happy your successes makes you. In fact I’d go as far as to say that happiness and fulfillment are measures of success that should not be forgotten about.

Different views of ‘Success’

Success, if you ask me, is an opinion. It’s a feeling. Sure If you want to measure success by how much money you’re making then perhaps it’s easier: you can set a target and work towards that amount. Success could be a target of £100,000 per year.

But success could also be in the way that you make your money, rather than just actually making it. Success will vary on grand scales for people. Perhaps you’ll have succeeded when your photography business pays your bills? Success for someone else could be as simple as earning enough from shooting weddings this year so that they can buy that 5D MkIII or Nikon D4s. To others though, success may be actually making some money from photography for a start.

Success will be determined by what is important to us in life, the stage of life we’re at and what we value most.

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Success will change as our aims and purposes change

I think my definition of success and as such happiness has evolved over the years. It initially was a materialistic measure, which I think children and young people are too often taught in school, sometimes at home and all too often by television. I started working in IT at a young age and there was one particular person I looked up to who was very materialistic at the time. Because I looked up to him in the early days I somewhat inherited his narrow view of success (in my opinion). At a very young age I was earning a good amount of money. I mortgaged my own house with my own money at just 22 years old. But that didn’t make me happy at all.

When I found photography I became more and more interested in spending time making photographs, sharing, discussing and experiencing photography and all it has to offer.

When I met my wife I was more interested in getting to know her and find out all about her and growing with her as a person. We experienced a lot together (and still are).

When I had children, I was mostly interested in spending time with them and making the best possible family I could. Photography was and still is a huge part of my life and I’m very distracted by it at all times. I say that I am distracted by it because at times life is about more than photography, it’s about all of those other things that I am now learning are part of what I’m calling my success.

As new things have come into my life and priorities have changed I’ve always found that the one component needed for me to make those new things fit and work in my life to a point where I can truly enjoy them, rather than make them feel like work, is TIME.

My own Definition of Happiness

I think my definition of happiness is having time and being in control of it. Making money, in whatever way that is, is a vehicle to buying time as far as I’m concerned. Obviously, having a hobby for photography like I do offers me an avenue to explore in terms of combining that and making the money I need to buy time. BUT, in the last few years I’ve realised that the finite amount of time I have in a day, or a week was being overly allocated to photography and taken away from my wife and children.

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I think having a balance of time, control and money is my definition of happiness. Having time to explore what I come across in life and take opportunities, having control of that time so I can do things when I want to do them, and having enough money to be able to afford all of that.

Time, for me is the most important thing, but time is dependant on other things. (Control and Money). That’s my ‘formula’ so far.

Whilst some people will still consider money to be their measure of success, others will insist that money doesn’t matter at all and that’s absolutely fine. In my opinion money is necessary, but it’s a small part that enables the other components that I define as success. Unfortunately being a photographer, whether professional or a hobbyist isn’t the cheapest of passions to pursue when you compare it to say playing Squash or running. So again, you do need money to enable you to pursue what makes you happy. (if your passion isn’t free of course)

What does any of this have to do with photography?

You may be asking why on earth I am talking about this subject on a photography blog? Well, I want to get you thinking about why you’re doing this in the first place? Why are you trying to make money from photography? What does it offer you that your day job or current pursuit doesn’t? The point is that we sometimes forget why we’re doing things when we become obsessed with them and I know full well how addictive photography can be.

Closing Question

So, now that I’ve shared my thoughts on what I call success, what does ‘Success’ look like to you? It doesn’t have to be the same as me. Success to some can be financial security, or travelling the world and of course earning money is a necessary part of those things.

What is success to you?

P.S: I remember when I was very young and there were a few times where I’d asked for a gadget, such as a Sony Walkman, or a toy such as an Action Man. Sometimes I wouldn’t get those things. However, what my brothers and I did have in our childhood were plenty of great times: Travelling down to the Isle of White or to the Hayling Island coast in the UK. Disney Land Paris, City Breaks with my mum and Brothers, holidays to Greece, driving down to the South of France that took 2 days, camping in the garden things like that. They weren’t tangible thingsThey weren’t the gadgets or toys I asked for as a young boy. But what they were, were great times and memories. Sure, I didn’t get the Action Man or the Sony Walkman, most likely because I was a horrible child most of the time or we didn’t have the money for much of my childhood, but if I did get those toys, I wouldn’t be sitting here now saying to you that “I had the greatest Mum because she bought me the Walkman and the Action Man“.

However I am saying that I had a cool Mum because she gave me experiences and memories that I still have today. I did get other toys and gadgets of course, but I don’t know where any of those are today. However,  I still remember those great times and today they still have value to me. It’s for reasons such as this that I believe my definition of success is less materialistic and more about time to enjoy happiness.

When I’m old and grey, will I remember the Sony Walkman? Or, will I remember the time my brother got stuck in a swing in the park that was clearly too small for him at Hayling Island?

Happiness to me is more than things and stuff and money.

Podcast 16 – An Interview with David DuChemin

Episode 16 of the Ready Steady Pro Podcast brings you the first Interview since Michael has returned from his break. This week on the podcast Michael chats with the one and only David DuChemin.

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If you’ve not heard of David DuChemin then you need to firstly listen to this interview, but also check him out online. David owns the amazing Craft & Vision eBook company. C&V are, in my mind, the best photography book company out there. The C&V books are not only amazingly finished and full of so much quality, but they’re usually only $5 too! David himself is a very humble and intelligent gentleman and I really enjoyed this interview.

We talk about David packing his life into a Land Rover, falling off a wall in Italy, starting all over again, starting an eBook company as a happy accident, we talk about inspiration, creativity, vision, business, his appearance on Creative Live and so much more. I can’t believe we didn’t go on for 3 hours with this chat.

There are also lots of news and announcements at the end of today’s show too, including lots of ways you can too can get involved with Ready Steady Pro such as Photographer In Focus, Photography Q&A and how you can apply to appear as a guest on the show!

It’s good to be back! So get ready for another cracking episode. Notepads to hand!

Sit back and enjoy this episode of Ready, Steady Pro! Click the link below to listen / download the podcast. You can also watch the original Google+ Hangout on YouTube (but you will miss out on all of Michael’s news & updates


View In iTunes
Click here to listen to the Podcast

The RSS Feed for this Podcast is: http://readysteadypro.libsyn.com/rss


This weeks Topic

An Interview with David DuChemin


Today’s Little Gems

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Vision Driven Photography – Creative Live
The Created Image Video Series Volume 1
Vision Mongers by David DuChemin


Show Notes / Links

Craft & Vision
SquareSpace
An Interview with David DuChemin – Original YouTube Broadcast


This weeks Hosts

Michael Rammell
David DuChemin

Why is Wedding Photography so Expensive?

This post was originally share over on Michael Rammell’s blog at www.RammellPhotography.com/blog


Writing a blog about the cost of wedding photography may seem controversial. Typically, my blog is a positive place where people can come and see how the most recent wedding shoot went, or, take a look at what else I’ve been up to. But just recently I started to think about pricing. I know my prices are low (very low) and they should be higher If I ever plan to do what I love full time. The thing is, I don’t compare myself to any other photographer so I don’t want to set my prices based on what the competition is priced at – I just try to strike a balance between what I think my images are worth and what I think a client will pay.

I figured the only way for me to know if my prices were right was to work out the numbers. So I started to do some research into the costs of wedding photography. I already knew that the average cost of a wedding photographer has been around £1,300 – £1,450 in the past few years, but I wanted to know what brides and grooms thought of prices. It’s one thing for me to value my work, but what value do brides and grooms put on the memories of their weddings? I set out by first recalling the situation I was in when I got married a few years back…

I Didn’t Hire A Photographer At My Own Wedding

You may think as a wedding photographer that I will have some pretty amazing photographs of my own wedding day, right? Surely I pulled in a favour with a wedding photographer friend of mine? You may even say that because I knew what it was like to be behind the camera – my wedding day pictures should be brilliant – as I would know what to do when in front of the camera…?

It breaks my heart to say it, but that is not the case.

My wife and I got married before I really found photography and before I decided I wanted to be a wedding photographer myself. I was the person on the wedding forums looking for a wedding photographer that would cost me £200 and not a penny more. At the time I could not understand why someone thought they could get away with quoting me £2,000?! After all it was just a day of pointing and shooting and an album I wanted – we were even getting married locally and I could buy an album off the internet for £40! I could take some pretty brilliant pictures with a point and shoot and even handed my brother my Sony Micro four thirds camera for the day (thinking that by having good camera in his hands we would end up with at least a few album-worthy images.

On one forum I saw what I thought was a genius Idea to save money on your wedding! One bride had suggested that she was going to purchase some disposable cameras and put them on each table and ask her guests to take photos. The guests would then leave the cameras behind, or, take them and get them developed and send copies of the photographs back to her and her husband. If truth be told, even now the idea sounds somewhat romantic. I remember selling the idea to my wife: “It’ll be our wedding day, seen through the eyes of our closest friends and family” I said.

We didn’t have a large wedding, just a few friends and our close family. Unfortunately, no-one knew how to take a picture the way I wanted them to. Sure, some were exposed properly and I’ve got my eyes open in a few, but they are not images I’m proud to show off. They’re not images that take me back to the moment when I see them. They have no ‘Wow’ factor. I wish now that I’d spent some money and hired someone who knew what they were doing. I’d have spent that £2,000 in a heartbeat if I knew what I know now.

I didn’t put enough value on my wedding photographs.

I wish I had memories like these:

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Oh here we go!

Now, You may read this and think “Oh here we go, he’s just scaremongering and trying to get us to spend all our budget on him”…I promise you that is not my aim. I’m not trying to convince you to hire me for your wedding. If you read this and at the end you understand the true value of a wedding photographer and you then hire someone else; I will still be overjoyed that all I achieved was to encourage you to hire a professional to capture your wedding day for you.

Quite simply – I don’t want you to be able to relate to my story. I don’t want you to email me in six months time and say “You were right!”. I don’t want my story to be your story.

So, what did i find from my research?

Go to Google and type ‘Why is wedding photography so expensive?‘. You are likely to notice two things:

  1. Firstly, you only have to type the words ‘Why is wedding photography…‘ before Google completes the question for you by conveniently adding ‘…so expensive?‘.
  2. And secondly; there are no shortage of photographers scrambling to explain the costs of wedding photography in a bid to tackle the belief that wedding photography is expensive.

Any good wedding photographer will know what a wedding costs them to photograph. They will know how much they have left after their fixed-cost outgoings. They should even know what a wedding will end up paying them as an hourly rate, (which I will come to later). So it doesn’t phase many wedding photographers to say “That’ll be £2,000“, but it still surprises most couples.

It makes me feel very much like there is a battle going on between couples and photographers, just like the battle I was having when I got married. And I think I know why…

It’s just one day of shooting…right?!

Searching through blogs and forums I’ve found there to be one very common misconception: That shooting a wedding is a one-day deal where we turn up, press a button and then go home. There is one fantastic ‘rant’ from an american bride mentioned on Kristen Booth’s blog where she says “I mean the “average” persons salary for 1 freaking month is somewhere around 3 grand. (Thats making 19$ an hour) So you’re going to take someones WHOLE MONTH paycheck for one flippen day of photos? Just because you CAN!!??????“. If you click the link you’ll see that Kristen has answered this rant in her own, very unique way.

But this ‘Craiglist Bride’ as Kristen calls her, had it all wrong. I worked out that I spend at least 38 hours producing wedding photographs when I shoot my entry level package: 10 hours on the wedding day. 22 hours editing the images. 2 hours of travelling. 2 hours of talking and discussions with my clients over the course of the build up to the wedding. If a client chooses a more premium package from my price list I’ll end up working even more hours.

What’s my point?

Today I want to answer this question slightly differently to most: I want to demystify the cost of wedding photography and lay the costs on the table and break it all down so that you can see that after the confetti has been cleared away, the average wedding photographer is likely take home less than most people do from the average ‘day job’.

Let’s look at the numbers

So, when I decided to start shooting weddings I thought I knew exactly how I was going to separate myself from the competition: I would be the amazing photographer charging crazy low rates. I would end up being super busy and would rake it in by simply shooting so many weddings. The quantity would make up for the low price, I thought. This is how my first 5 weddings went:

(Please note from this point on i am representing my figures at a very basic level)

  1. Wedding #1 was a favour to a friend. If they hadn’t hired me, they wouldn’t have hired anyone. I charged: £0
  2. Wedding #2 was a result of word of mouth from the first wedding. I couldn’t charge much more as I did their friends wedding for free! I charged £250
  3. Wedding #3 was a booking through Facebook. I was getting more confident so my prices went up: I charged £300
  4. Wedding #4 was another referral from the 1st and 2nd weddings so they wanted the same service and price. I charged £250 again
  5. Wedding #5 was for a colleague at work. I actually said I would do their wedding for free. They’re friends of my wife and I and I wanted to do it as a sort of wedding present. They insisted on paying though and I made £250

Before I go on I will just say for the record that I am very proud of my first few weddings. I had a blast doing them, my clients are happy with their images and I don’t regret ever entering the photography industry and I certainly don’t regret charging those low prices. I love this job and I hope I can continue to enjoy it for the rest of my life.

So, total up my first few weddings and you’ll notice a grand total of £1050. Not bad eh! Oh – I had to pay tax on that too, so %20 goes to Mr Taxman leaving me with a figure of £840 turnover. Still not bad eh?! (note ‘turnover’ – not profit)

lace my palm with silver

So, I had made some money. From 5 weddings (with 1 being free) I had made £840. At the time I was very pleased,  but then I did some math to figure out what my camera gear had cost me:

  • Canon 7d:£850
  • 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM II: £1600
  • 50mm f1.8 £100
  • Spare batteries & battery grip for 7d £300
  • Canon 580EXII Speedlight (flash) £550
  • My Camera bag was £70
  • x4 Compact Flash Cards were £200
  • Multiple SD Cards were around £150
  • My Tripod was £150
  • Batteries and battery conditioner for flash: £135
  • There were other things too such as lens cleaning equipment, memory card readers and more that all amounted to something like £100
  • I hired a Canon 24-70mm L USM for two of the weddings at £100 per rental; £200

Again, some quick math shows my camera gear alone at the time of my 5th wedding had cost me£4,905. That’s around half the value of the gear a seasoned professional would carry with them!

There’s more to take into account though. I’d then need to edit those images:

  • A new laptop powerful enough to run Adobe Photoshop and LightRoom: £600
  • Adobe Lightroom: £120
  • Monitor for editing: £350
  • CD’s to burn client discs £20
  • Network Storage so that I don’t lose client images: £200

That takes my post editing costs to: £1290. Add this to the camera gear and my total outlay to shoot weddings now stood at: £6,195

There is still more to be accounted for:

  • New suit & Shoes: £250
  • Travel costs (Diesel) – I’ve worked out my mileage and to date I’ve travelled over 200 miles for weddings: £20
  • Electricity when charging batteries and working editing and for my storage device that is always turned on. I would wager a guess at these being £100 over the course of those 5 weddings.
  • Website & domain: £180
  • Business cards: £30

These other additional costs amount to some  £580. Added once more to the previous totals and I then realised my total outlay amounted to: £6,775 to shoot weddings. My £840 turnover now seems pretty small. After my 5th wedding I needed to go on and make a further £5,935 in order to break even on my investment. Only then would any money I make be considered profit!

I also realised at this point that I still hadn’t insured my equipment, nor had I taken out the public liability insurance that most venues require before allowing you to work on their premises…but I couldn’t afford those at that point.

Breaking even on my investment – how long will it take me to do that?

It was when I put these figures into a spreadsheet for the first time It dawned on me: Being a wedding photographer is expensive! But I now wanted to figure out how long it would take me to break even. There was no way of me determining what my turnover for the next year would be. I couldn’t predict bookings. So, I started to look at my pricing and came up with some models & projections.

(It gets quite ‘numbery’ here, but please read on)

From the first 5 weddings I’d been averaging £250 per wedding. After tax I would be left with £200 per wedding. That means I would need to shoot 28 weddings at that rate to break even on my current investment. I figured if I had a good year and shot 10 weddings, I’d still have another 18 to go. At that rate It would take me 3 years to break even, at which point the cameras would need replacing, the laptop would need renewing and I’d be starting all over again…I worked out that If I am making £200 per wedding and working nearly 40 hours per wedding I was paying myself £5.71 per hour…the UK minimum wage is £6.19 (as of 2012).

Another way of looking at that is that if I were going to repay my remaining investment of £5,935 at that rate, I would need to work 1,120 hours…

So lets assume I worked full time in an office and took home the £5.71 per hour. If I worked 40 hours in an office every single week earning that hourly rate I would take home an annual wage of £10,923.20. That amount is simply not enough to pay my bills and that is based on working 35 hours every week – with weddings You can only shoot so many in one year!

I think from the above alone it’s clear to see that charging these low rates was not a sustainable business model. It just would never work. It wasn’t even worth me doing it as I had a ‘day job’ too. I’d be working around 80 hours a week whenever I shot a wedding!

Okay, that’s enough number crunching for one minute – there’s more to it that money and time…

So, as it stood I’d have to work over 1100 hours in addition to my day job for less than minimum wage. But there is far more to it than cash and time. Making a photograph is an art and a craft. If everyone could do it then these prices would be the market rate – why would you need to go and find someone when any uncle or cousin with a camera could do it for you? The fact is not everyone can do this. Sure, new digital cameras can take some of the technicality out of taking an image – but knowing how to instinctively use a camera, being able to see a moment as it’s about to happen, and then capturing it perfectly – that’s worth something too.

You’re not just investing in someone with a nice camera, a smart suite and a cool website, you’re investing in someone who knows what they’re doing, someone prepared and experienced. You’re guaranteeing yourself that you will get the photographs that will last you a lifetime.

What am i saying?

My point here is that if you’re looking for the £200 photographer, or if you’re employing your friend / cousin / uncle because they take ‘nice pictures’ you’re simply not placing enough value of your own wedding. I’m not suggesting you have to pay a lot of money, in fact there are some expensive photographers out there who are not worth what they charge, I am simply urging you to employ a professional. I’m not looking to appear as a hero when I say this, but this is part of the reason why my basic price is one-third of of the market average: I understand that not everyone has £1,400 for a wedding photographer, I certainly didn’t at the time when I was getting married.

What I am saying is don’t measure the importance or value of your wedding by your budget, or what it’s costing you.

If you can afford £1,400 or more on a wedding photographer you are very lucky. My advice to you is pay them that money, get them on board and ensure that they are involved in every step of your wedding day from start to finish. Make sure that your £1,400 investment is the best it can be by allowing and enabling your photographer to do their job.

I was stressing about costs in the build up to my wedding – worrying that what my wife and I had arranged wasn’t going to be magical enough for her, that it wasn’t the wedding she had dreamed of her entire life. She knew I was concerned and said to me: “In my culture it is said that ‘the less extravagant the wedding, the more blessed the marriage will be’. I want our marriage to blessed” – the morale here is that the value should be placed on the wedding itself and how much it means to each person. The wedding should not valued in any monetary sense.

Whilst this is a beautiful sentiment and one with which I completely agree – It still doesn’t mean that my wife and I have a single image as beautiful as our wedding day and that breaks my heart.

Conclusion

I urge you when planning your wedding to take photography into account right from the start and hire a professional. I would encourage you to spend a good amount of time searching for a photographer who both fits your budget and has portfolio that takes your breath away.

Remember, a good wedding photographer will also be a wedding planner, a friend and a guest on your big day. They will help you to work out timings for your wedding breakfast, they’ll tell you that when you’re having your hair done – be sure to wear a button up top so you don’t ruin two hours worth of curling and hair-spraying. A good photographer will tell you to dry the stems of your bouquet so as to not wet your dress, but most of all you’ll learn to trust them so you can relax safe in the knowledge that this person will be capturing the special moments of your big day so that you have memories you will be able to cherish for the rest of time. A good photographer will be the best investment on your wedding day.

If you stumbled across this post as a result of looking for cheap wedding photographers, I sincerely hope this will encourage you to consider the photography on your big day and what value you place on it. Please feel free to leave a comment below and get in touch if you have any questions about my story or the costs of wedding photography.

The Problem with Email

Over in the Ready Steady Pro community whenever we have discussions about inquiries and dealing with clients I always suggest the same thing (especially when it comes to dealing with dissatisfied clients). That advice is to Get on the phone! Speak to your clients.

Before I list the many reasons why I think you should be picking up the phone to your clients, let me give a little demonstration as to why trying to explain something or negotiate via email can be so challenging.

Misinterpretation & Misunderstanding

Here is a good example of the problem with an email. Let’s say that the bride from your most recent wedding has contacted you after receiving her photographs. She loves them, but as so many brides do nowadays, she asks politely via email:

“Is there any chance I could have a few more photographs? I’m keen to get the group photograph of my bridesmaids standing by the fountain”.

For the sake of this example lets say you didn’t actually take a photograph of the bridesmaids in a group at all and that you don’t have the photograph that the bride is requesting. Here is a sample response with no emphasis on any one word:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”

Ok granted, you would probably take the time to say that you didn’t actually make the photograph and you’d ‘fluff up’ the sentence a little to let her down more gently. However, what if the bride is frustrated that you didn’t make that photograph? What if your bride begins to put emphasis on certain parts of your sentence that aren’t actually there. What if your bride reads your reply as (from here it would help to read aloud if you can):

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”

topaz

Well, that emphasis suggests that you did something to the bridesmaids by the fountain but perhaps you didn’t photograph them. Was it a video perhaps? Here’s the same sentence again, different word emphasized:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”

So you photographed some bridesmaids? Just not her bridesmaids? (Can you see what’s happening here?). Here’s another for fun:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”

Well if you didn’t photograph the bridesmaids by the fountain, who did you photograph by the fountain?!
And lastly:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain

Okay, so you photographed the bridesmaids, but you didn’t do it by the fountain. Well then where did you photograph them?

You see, emails can be interpreted in many different ways. It can often depend on who’s reading it! If you’re on the telephone however you are in control of the way your sentences come across. There is less to be questioned as you’re being clear about what you’re saying.

The Benefits of the Humble Telephone Call

You see, there is a lot lost in an email; tone of voice, expression, humour, enthusiasm, character. These are all very human qualities that can go a long way to building a relationship and a camaraderie between you and your client and sealing a deal! In a telephone call many of these qualities can come through and be felt and heard by the client on the other end of the line. By speaking to your client they will be able to hear that you’re genuinely interested in their dress, shoes, venue and flowers. You may even go off topic and find you have a common interest which is less likely in an exchange of emails.

Furthermore, not everyone today actually picks up the phone and talks to clients so it’s a really easy way of standing out from the other photographers you’re likely to be competing with for this business.

THERE’S MORE! Another added benefit of actually speaking on the phone to your clients or potential clients is that it’s so much faster than typing an email! You can be emailing back and forth for days, but with a telephone call you can often talk about all sorts of things in a fraction of the time.

Actually calling a client on the phone tells them that you exist and helps to paint a picture of you. Remember, your clients are likely to be paying what they consider to be a good rate for your services. Little things like telephone calls can go a long way to justifying why they’ve chosen you.

phone booth

The Drawbacks of a Telephone Call

Okay, so there are lots of positive reasons speaking on the telephone, but clearly it doesn’t suit ever photographer. Some may find it daunting to contact a client and speak to them. If you’re not a confident talker on the phone then perhaps you should stick to email for most of your communication.

The other drawback of the telephone call is of course that there is no record of what was said. But, this is what a good contract is for, so I’m not entirely sure that this one should be seen as a drawback. What I also tend to do is to send an email after our telephone call summarising the key points we discussed.

The last drawback that I can think of is somewhat related to confidence: sometimes a client may ask you a question that you’re not too sure about. But hey, you can just say ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that one’. So long as you deliver on your promise and call them back or email them that’s fine.

My Challenge to You

Are you a serial emailer? Do you always aim to reply to inquiries withing 24 hours of receiving them? Great! But now try calling back those clients instead of emailing them. If they haven’t provided a telphone number in their inquiry, email them back and ask for one, or provide yours and encourage a telephone call.

I’d be interested if you’ve made a choice to make more telephone calls following this post. If so what difference has it made, if any? Have you converted more inquiries into paid bookings or has nothing changed? Drop a comment below or join us over in the Ready Steady Pro Facebook community to continue this discussion

What’s Your Unique Selling Point? (USP)

I’ve said on a few podcasts now; “It’s better to have 50% of people love you and 50% of people hate you than to have 100% of people not care at all”. The premise here being is that if you’re not exceptional, not outstanding, not different…then who will care? Who will you target market be and why would they choose you over someone else? To borrow a phrase from Seth Godin – what is your Purple Cow?

You have to stand out from the crowd even if that means many people do not like your work or your approach.

So, if you’re looking to please the widest possible audience you’re somewhat missing the point. In fact, that’s what a lot of people are doing and so the result ends up being this diluted product that doesn’t delight one section of people, but rather it is mildly satisfactory to some people. That is not the characteristic of an exceptional product or service. That is not a product people are going to go mad for, buy, scream and shout about. That isn’t a successful product

In the book ‘Purple Cow’, by Seth Godin, Seth tells the story of when Comedy Central (the TV Channel) showed ‘South Park’ to a test group. It scored a record low score of 1.8 out of 10 among women in the test group, but recorded unanimous high scores among young males. It goes without saying if you look now how massively popular the South Park show is that it is a purple cow: It’s been on for 17 seasons with some 247 shows, consistently being one of the highest airing programs on cable TV. It’s received numerous awards and a movie too.

Suffice to say that South Park is Marmite (You either love it or hate it). But the love for the show from it’s fans is the important statistic. It’s those people who watch it, buy the DVD’s and the merchandise and make the brand money. The people who hate it don’t have anything to do with it. These are not worth focusing on. What if the makers of South Park suddenly decided to try and make South Park more appealing to more people? What if they cut the language, removed some of the obscenities and dulled the show down to make it more ‘digestible’ to more people. Do you think that more people would love it, or do you think that the show’s fans would lose interest?

So, the purple cow is a product or a service or a brand that is truly loved by the people who love it. The reason it’s a purple cow and now a purple…dog, cat, mouse etc… is because you milk the cow. The reason the cow is purple is because you don’t really see purple cow’s. But, if you did I’m sure you’d be amazed, I’m sure you’d talk about. It would be unique!

So, get out there, be unique, please the people who love you and forget about those who don’t. Milk the cow for what it’s worth and make some money. Be Purple!

This belief that being different, as opposed to just better is a belief that CreativeLive Co-Founder Chase Jarvis and Commercial Photographer Joey L have spoken about too. Check out this short 3 minute video. The biggest takeaway from me is a quote from Chase, where he says:

Be Different, not just better. In the art world being better only gets you so far. You have to be able to hit the ball down the middle, but everything after that is about being different”

Be sure to subscribe to Seth’s blog. I’m inspired on a regular basis by the stuff this guy produces and I’m sure you will be too. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/