Countdown to Vegas
I normally post only my latest glam, beauty, and fashion shoots on this blog; in fact I do have one experimental shoot not yet posted, but I’ll save that for next week. This week I’m going to take a little behind-the-curtain detour and look at where I’m going next!
It’s January, so it’s time to start the countdown for my annual trip to WPPI in Las Vegas, which means spending more time getting ready, less time shooting, and finally leaving Calgary for a week of fun, learning, and adventure. WPPI is a great place to see what’s happening in the photo industry, and it’s not just for ‘wedding’ photographers, since a lot of brides also want boudoir-style shoots as well. I don’t really like the term ‘boudoir’ to describe what I’d like be providing my clients – but I’ll get to that later.
Going to Vegas isn’t a warm weather vacation, either; in fact it’s so unusually warm here in Calgary that the two cities are about the same temperature this week. It’s so warm here that I snuck out before dawn today to snap the colors in the clouds:
With so much going on in December it wasn’t until the Christmas break (a week of street photography in Vancouver) that I had time to step back from day-to-day concerns and consider where I’d like to take my style and my business. So much has happened in a month that it would be impossible to ignore it all.
I met with Rockie Lee, a photographer in Vancouver that’s just written a book about developing more unique photographic styles, and we chatted for hours about it. He’s also a “don’t call it boudoir” boudoir photographer – looking at his portfolio I think you’ll see what I mean. He is gifted, but he’s constantly working hard to keep refining his ‘look’, so his message is pretty relevant to me. And his energy and enthusiasm are infectious! If you’re in the lower mainland and looking for a photographer, stop looking and call Rockie. Seriously.
I also took some time to evaluate where I’m at. For starters, I need to turn all the dials up on my business; how often I shoot, what I charge, and the level of what I produce. The good news is that I can see a path forward now, which I couldn’t before. If you’re a photographer, check out Dane Sanders; he’s a photographer and author from California that can really help to put the puzzle pieces together.
The first dial I have to turn up is the frequency of shooting; the effect of working in a creative frame of mind more often that working on non-creative elements of the business has a positive, measurable effect on my work. I can do this by outsourcing a few more of the mundane administrative tasks, and possibly rent a permanent studio… I find my work surroundings really influence my mood and behaviours… if I don’t feel like I’m at work, then I don’t do work. Studio space is expensive (like $25k – $50k a year), so this also is going to play a part in the business plan.
The next dial I have to turn up is price. Doing client work is more expensive than you’d think; certainly more expensive than personal work, where you can negotiate all kinds of compromises with yourself to stay on budget but still get what your after. By raising my prices a bit I won’t be stuck worrying about shoot expenses when I should be thinking creatively. The biggest new expense for me is going to be adding a bit of video to the mix.
The last dial I have to turn up to 11 is image quality and style. If I’ve nailed the first two, then I know from experience that part of this, the creativity, happens naturally for me. What isn’t natural for an artist is thinking creatively about business and the style or ‘feel’ of who I am and what I’m putting out there – but I think I have that licked now too.
The final part of the plan involves some gear purchases. I’m really happy with my gear as it is – photographically it’s great – but I can’t shoot video with it. And video is going to be a really important part of the new product offerings! I’m not intending to move to full time / full length videography, but rather use moving images as part of the photographic story telling process. Besides, I don’t like the word ‘video’, it just sounds tacky and cheap. Moving images sounds sooo much nicer! My current gear does allow me to shoot very short clips in HD, but processing is a chore – but after seeing the results mixed in with still images, it’s pretty cool. So offering a mix of still and moving images – a ‘video portfolio’ – is going to be on the menu for models and actors.
Lastly, I have to start ‘getting the brand out there’. I don’t talk much about ‘AfterExposure’ (or Amazing Expressions, for my wedding work.) as a brand; in fact I don’t like talking about marketing, branding, or even doing advertising. The name ‘AfterExposure’ originally had nothing to do with models being after more exposure; exposure was being used as a photographic term. But the name stuck, and I’m too lazy to go back 5 years and re-watermark all those pre-Lightroom images with another name. For the moment it works, and I’ll continue to use it for working with models and ‘industry’ shoots. I’ve also started to work with the process for refining my style that Rockie suggests in his book, as a longer term personal project, so I’ll still be doing creative/experimental trade shoots with models who are interested.
But for ‘civilian’ work – ie clients that aren’t interested in modelling or the unknowns of an experimental shoot, I need to do something under a different banner. A new name; a new style, and a new, unique product offering. I’ve toyed with a few names that match a few markets; ‘Dames and Daggers’ for the Pin-Up & Hot Rod crowd; and variations of “Notorious/Decadent” for the more clean lines of a modern, non-retro style. Great ideas… but different styles… so I need something unique, and something that will last as my style evolves. And the new style and product doesn’t really fit either of those names, in fact I don’t think it’s ever really been done in a big way before, so I’m pretty excited about it!
Then I realized that I should use my own name (I’ve had my name registered for a while on the interwebs). It’s unique, and I’m kinda attached to it. So look for the new product offerings soon; by the time I get back from Vegas I should be able to post some fresh new samples of what I’m going to be offering. It’s going to be awesome!
It also addresses head-on one of the constant struggles that working with digital has – the selling of digital media – and the loss of future print sales, the negative effect on the value of the art, and the perception of the photographer and what they deliver. Photographers aren’t always publicly chatty on this topic, but it boils down to traditional business models that are built on the idea of selling both the artists time (the session fee) and prints (the physical art itself) to stay in business. Photographers who ‘give away’ their digital files, but are otherwise operating in a traditional way, are cutting their own throats. Some photographers sell digital files priced in a range that offsets the loss of print sales, but the issue here is that clients often have these digital files printed at low cost, and at low quality at places like Costco or WalMart. This is exactly how a photographer who cares about their craft doesn’t want their work produced and displayed!
But what about moving images? They don’t fit the model of physical art, they have to be delivered digitally! They key difference here is that at HD resolutions as a DVD or mpeg file the images don’t lend themselves to client printing after delivery. I can still offer wall art and books, and in fact I can reduce the prices of the physical products because because the primary product is the digital media, and most of the time to get the images ready (editing and retouching) is already costed into the digital media production. Look for pricing on these packages soon!