Justine Ungaro is conducting a Master Class at WPPI about the challenges of setting up business in a new market. We're proud to be sponsoring her.
We all know that selling albums can make you more $$, but did you know that selling albums will also make you a better photographer? It’s a hard-learned lesson that took me years to figure out, so I will try to save you time by giving it to you straight!
When I started out as a wedding photographer, I didn’t sell a whole lot of albums. I was intensely focused on improving my photography skill and developing my creativity. But as the years went on and I mastered more technical skills, I pushed the creative boundaries more and more, trying to really impress people. I shot images that I was really proud of, that I knew were difficult to execute well.
But I started to notice something as I worked with clients to design their wedding albums… Often my favorite images were not even selected for the album. Client favorites rarely overlapped with my own and sometimes I even thought that they selected “boring” images. Boring images that I sometimes shot begrudgingly or merely out of tradition. I felt disappointed to send out albums into the world that I wasn’t necessarily all that proud of, even if the clients themselves thought they were incredible.
Once I recognized this disconnect, I decided to pay closer attention to the types of images that my clients were selecting. Not only that, but I decided that if I saw patterns in what images were ending up in albums, I would learn how to do a better job shooting the “boring” things to make them less boring, and give some thought to what the best loved client images have in common.
Here is what I’ve been able to figure out from careful study. The most loved client images have the following characteristics: they are flattering, they are dynamic and they are meaningful. This applies to any wedding image whether it is a portrait, a captured moment, a detail, a group shot, you name it.
So let’s start with arguably the most important…
FLATTERING: Perhaps it’s a bummer to have to list vanity way up there at the top but it is truly your first barrier. It does not matter how great a moment it was, how amazing your lighting is or how hard you tried to execute an image, if your client does not look good (in their own eyes), they are just not going to like it. Your image is dead in the water and can’t be appreciated for any of the reasons you want it to be appreciated for. So, always remember to keep this in mind, and don’t ever sacrifice your client’s vanity in exchange for “a cool angle” etc. Fat arms, double chins, the accentuation of skin issues etc. can all ruin an otherwise perfectly great image.
DYNAMIC: I take this to mean that there is a sense of movement and/ or breathability in the image, that it is not so static and posed that your subjects look uncomfortable. I use posing to correct awkward looking or unflattering body positioning or lighting. I do not use it to try to make everything perfect because more often than not, perfect looks lifeless…and boring.
MEANINGFUL: What is the point of this image? Does it have a story? Every image should tell a story. A macro shot of a stamen of one of the flowers in the bouquet is pointless. There is no story there whatsoever that’s relative to the wedding day; there is no context. Even details should have context. What is is the relation of this detail to the wedding…why is it there? Shoot it in a way that shows why it matters or how it is used.
We often see the exact opposite problem when it comes to portraits. We see plenty of big, wide, epic landscapes with a teeny tiny bride and groom. If you shoot wide, epic imagery, what is your story? Is it a scene setter to show the incredible venue…or so that your clients will remember the weather that day? Are you making a commentary about how vast the space is? I’ve seen gorgeous epic portraits but in order to matter to your clients, they must still have a point…and a limit.
The majority of your portraits should focus on the people themselves, the relationships between them, their body language etc. People want to see their own faces and the faces of their loved ones. Even captured moments should have context. Lens choice and body positioning can make a world of difference in how you craft your vision of a moment in time. What’s in the background? What’s in the foreground? What’s in the periphery? What do these elements add to your overall story?
Understanding the types of images that my clients love helps me to shoot more of these images…to not get too distracted by my own selfish creative juices and to remember who I am shooting for. I want to shoot images that matter to THEM, images that are important family archives, images that bring about emotion. Images that will still matter even when some of the people in them are no longer here. This might not make me the most artistic or creative wedding photographer out there and I’m quite okay with that, because I have honed my vision enough in 13 years of shooting weddings and forging relationships with clients that I understand which images matter the most to my clients. If I wasn’t so focused on selling albums and allowing my clients to help in the image selection process, I might have missed out on a lot of these lessons.
Being a successful wedding photographer only has so much to do with actual technical photography knowledge. Of course you need technical expertise and a certain skill level in order to be a professional in the first place. But that’s not what makes you great in the eyes of your clients. Developing the intuition that guides you in what to shoot and how to shoot it is a huge part of the puzzle. An understanding of people and a mutual love and respect for your clients and them for you…this is what leads to future referrals and repeat business. And it all begins and ends with albums.