Big Sky. Big Love
Another beautiful day in Charlottesville at the BEAUTIFUL Farmington Country Club!
The beginning of the 2016 Wedding season is upon us and that means almost 200 weddings booked for Sam Stroud Photography. I am floored that so many choose to work with us, but it isn’t also by accident. I go out of my way and work hard on ensuring that we book that client that emails us. No, we don’t book everyone, and you never will (or should) but we book a lot of the brides we are looking for and I want to take a few minutes to share some tips with you on how to take that relationship beyond just the first email inquiring about pricing.
1. Be Specific - There is nothing more annoying than having to pull information out of someone selling you something. If someone emails you and asks for availability and pricing, give them your availability and pricing. It may seem simple, but do you know how many times a bride has told me how hard it was talking to other photographers? If they email you asking for something, GIVE IT TO THEM!
2. Be Thorough - Again, this may be the same as the first point, but be as specific as possible and be as thorough as you possibly can. Meaning, talk to them about who you are, what you do, how you do it and how much it’s going to cost them. They have contacted you, so they are interested. The first part, the hardest part is over. You have them interested. Don’t lose them by not being direct with them.
3. Sell Them Your Experience - Yes, they are paying you to photograph their wedding. But rarely do I talk about taking pictures with them. I highlight how I photograph. I talk about what the day is like and how I interact with my clients. Here is a snippet of an email all of my clients get on that first contact;
I love shooting at Pippin HIll! There are so many beautiful details and locations there to shoot and I am excited to take full advantage of it! Making a real connection with you and bringing out your personalities in my portraits is so important. We want more than anything to create images that tell the story of your wedding day in the best way possible and to help create images that will last forever.
4. Respond Quickly - This one right here is a no brainer, and it blows my mind how many people miss this one. According to surveys more than half of the people surveyed said that they expect an email within 12 hours of sending one. 12 hours! I also did an internal survey, and over the last 2 years we maintained a 90% booking rate of those we responded to within 8-12 hours.
We used to respond within in 24, but now try to get to every new inquiry before the end of the day. This may mean you rework how you respond to email. For me personally, I only check email 3 times a day. Morning, Noon, and close of business. But when I do, i respond quickly. Bottom line is, get back to your new inquiries as fast as humanly possible
5. Follow Up - And finally, follow up with your clients. Be creative with this. I sometimes use gift cards to Starbucks, or other gifts. But the point is to follow up. I usually wait 5-7 days and sometimes it’s just a simple two liner asking if they need any other information. But I can’t tell you how many of those simple nudges have turned into bookings!
What about you guys? What has worked for you? How do you handle bookings and what do you do to stay on top of them? Make sure to let us know and thanks for reading!
Got to spend the day with these two! Was such a beautiful day to photograph an elopement!
2015 was a big year for me and a big year for the business. We grew to 100+ weddings, and brought on new shooters and formed new relationships. Plus it was year 5. I feel like for some reason that is a big milestone but not sure i can really articulate why. Regardless of all of that, I wanted to take some time not only to reflect on the weddings we shot but also reflect on some of the the bigger things we learned as a business both in our failures and our successes.
1 . Profits, Not Growth, are What Matter - This was a big one for me. This sounds so sterile and so “corporate”. I constantly focus on growing, expanding and getting bigger. But the reality is if you aren’t making any money what’s the point? Why create something to sell if you aren’t maximizing the amount of money you can make. At the end of the day this is a business. And the business has to make money for me to create more business, create more margin and create more of the life I want to live.
2. My Photographers are #1 - The great Marcus Lemonis said it best, “The customer is not number 1. They are number 2, right behind the employee.” The photographers who choose to sacrifice their day to do work for me are the greatest asset in creating the absolute best experience possible. And we have to surround ourselves with the best. After every weekend when I cull through the images, I ALWAYS think to myself, “How in the world did I find these people?” I work with some of the most talented people I have ever encountered. And I am so grateful to get to do work with them
3. The Cure For Burnout is to do More - I have discovered burnout comes from 1 of 2 things. Lack of focus on what matters or lack of passion for what you do. This year I set out to fix burnout. Rather than previous years, I wasn’t going to step away. I was going to step into more of my work. But also, take a second to refocus on where my real passion lies in my work. The client relationship. And believe it or not, it worked.
4. I Don’t Care About Being Known - I felt like of all the things I learned this year, this one allowed the biggest “exhale”. It was a weight removed. We have a massive following online which absolutely boggles my mind. And I am so so so thankful that people care about what we do. And people love the work we do. But I am not defined by that. And neither are you. We as business owners are defined by the experience our clients receive.
5. Do Less and Do It Better - This one is simple...This year was the year we stopped offering more services. We got rid of a bunch of stuff and focused on creating great work.
6. Mistakes - The mistakes I made this year were a product of pure lack of discipline. One thing I am not is lazy. I am, however, impulsively compulsive. I am also obsessively compulsive. So process for me matters. If there isn’t a process, things just don’t get done. One of my friends describes me as “manic”. And that is so true. I have a crazy way of doing things. But I have to have a process to get them done. And this year I realized that process for me is almost as important as anything else. Things get lost quickly in my mind. Even if I write them down. They get lost. process, process, process… that is my mantra.
7. You Learn From The Success, Not The Mistake - We’ve always been told that we learn from our mistakes. That isn’t true. We just know what not to do. You LEARN from what you do right. You build on your success. Progress is made when we do something well and decide what to do next. If you make a mistake move away from dwelling on that and focus on what you do well.
8. I Love What I Do - I obsess about my work. I think that is a very cliche thing you hear. But I do. I think about it almost every part of my day. It can be a difficult thing to deal with at times. It gets in the way. But it is so deeply part of what I am, that I have a hard time separating myself from it. But there is no question, that i love it. And I wake up every morning with the gratitude that i get to do this for work.
This is a smattering of things I learned. Every day you should learn something new about yourself, and to boil 2015 into only 8 things is crazy. But these are the biggies. The ones that I will take into 2016 with me and make dramatic changes to. What about you? What did you learn in 2015? What are some things you would like to see changed for 2016?
Crazy how time flies!
Such a beautiful day to shoot a wedding!
The incredible space at Sierra Vista always allows for stunning images. And these two didn't disappoint!
We love to travel, and we have been so lucky to get to travel to some beautiful locations to photograph some incredible weddings. AND This one was no different! Enjoy!
"Real talk. How do you stay inspired and creative when you shoot so much?"
I got this text from one of my photographers the other day. At first it made me chuckle and I almost went to my go to answer (music, lifestyle photography etc etc etc) And, YES I get it... I have written about this before. And YES, I have so many things I run to when I need inspiration. But this one stuck with me this time and it got me thinking a little bit differently for some reason. This time I responded differently. And in so many words I responded with,
“To you, what is the greatest thing about this work we do? And do you LOVE it?”
Thats annoyingly vague and even more annoyingly cliche. But, listen, let me lay a few things out first. I know for a fact I am not the most talented photographer in the world. I know it and I reference that fact often. I may not even be the most talented photographer in the SSP Collective. However I know that I love my work. That sounds so narcissistic... let me clarify. I have found what I want to do until the day I die. That is my anchoring point in the every day “ho-hum” details of what I do. And I OBSESS over it. I LOVE what I do.
But to get back to my original question... what keeps me inspired is the exact thing that keeps me obsessed with my work; the couple and the people I serve
When I look at a beautiful image that i have taken, I rarely see anything else but the couple.
What I love more than anything else about photographing weddings is the connection I have with the people I serve on a daily basis. I love hearing their stories. I love seeing the look on their face when I get them to interact with each other during their portrait sessions. So when I am feeling uninspired, I lean in on that. And believe me I DO GET UNINSPIRED. We shoot 100+ weddings a year and half that in engagements and bridals. It happens!
But when it does I try to take a second from shooting with them and think about that connection. I ask more questions. I find out more about them. What is their story? How did they meet? What drew them to each other ? What is their love story? I try to remove the focus off of me, and what I am feeling in that moment and whatever it is that is causing me to make it about me, and put the focus back on them and what they share together. Let me explain by showing you a few photos;
Yes, I can absolutely do some technical things to keep posing, framing and composition fresh. And you can as well. Practically, pick 5 poses you love, and shot around those 5 poses. Get in tight, get wide, use some atmospheric technique… all of those things are great. But I would push you beyond that and encourage you to also find out what it is about your work you love. Have you ever asked yourself that question? Have you ever taken a few minutes to think about and find out what that is and if you are struggling through this fall season being uninspired, lean in on that one thing and let it move you to creating work you love.
This wedding had so so many incredible details and so many beautiful things going! We are always really excited to get to shoot at the Marriott Ranch in Hume, Virginia because of all of the opportunities we have to shoot in so many beautiful locations! Enjoy!
Sometimes you just get the exact and most perfect conditions for the most beautiful images! :: I love these two images because of so many reasons! 1. the couples were incredible. Being willing to get away and (a. get wet or b. in the case of mindy and Dan on the right, get mauled by coyotes.) do whatever crazy idea we had in that moment. 2. We decided to do something different and the payoff was beautiful! Push yourself beyond what you normally create. Who knows what will happen! You may just surprise yourself!
This venue, Sierra Vista is such an incredible place to get married! So many beautiful spots to take the bride and groom! Take a look!
The Brenizer Method is nothing new. However, Ryan Brenizer has really made it at popular thing over the last few years. For those of you who don't know what it is, here is the quick and dirty;
It's a method of stitching together a series of shots all at the same DOF with the focal point being on one single thing. In the image below, the single point of focus is the couple, and you can see it gives it almost a 3D look. Basically think of it as a wide panoramic with a shallow depth of field. See the images below. Enjoy!
Rain or shine, it doesn't matter... these two were relishing in an incredible wedding day. Im so thankful for they were willing to go out in the rain and do this! And thanks to Sundara for being so prepared and accommodating to everyone at the wedding!
As you know, we have been announcing for a few days here that we are giving away an ONA bag, and the time has come to announce our winner!
the first step was to collect and randomize all of the names and email address, then use the incredible tool over at Random.org to pick a number between 1 and 1247 entries!
SO without further delay here is your winner;
Kendra Phillibaum, congrats!!! Shoot us an email and claim your ONA!!!!
Such a beautiful evening celebrating with these two!
Shooting at the beach is always the best! Such a beautiful time with these two yesterday!
So many photographers these days are focusing on “Natural Light” photography, and telling us how to take the best image possible when we are outside. And of course that makes sense, it’s where the magic happens! Shooting outdoors isn’t always easy, but it isn’t difficult once you practice at finding or creating the right conditions. And if you are curious about shooting better portraits outside, let me condense that for you… 1. Put the client between you and the sun. or 2. find some shade. 3 wait for sunset
There, problem solved… ha!
ANYWAYS, the issue with focusing on shooting only outdoors is that SO much of what we shoot, often happens inside! With the bride getting ready, inside a church during the ceremony, and of course the reception we often find ourselves in those awkward and tough lighting conditions. So let me help you with 3 ways to get better images while shooting inside!
1. Find a Window - This is the mother of all lighting conditions. The light is diffused and directional. What that means is it’s coming from one place and it generally places itself evenly on whatever subject your photographing. For me, when photographing a bride, this kind of light makes for those beautiful tight, soft images of her face. You can also create some really unique portraits by using the window to back light them. Regardless of how you place them, using window light can be the easiest way to light a subject in a poorly lit area. I often times, when the bride is getting ready, have them change the room around to ensure she is facing the window (Window behind me, me between the window and the bride, and have the bride face me) because of smooth even light and how it makes the brides eyes just pop!
2. Room Lighting - This is a toughie... But you can make it work. First thing is first, if at all possible, stay AWAY from any over head lighting. It creates the worst shadows. And if you don’t have a flash, there is no way to fix that. If you do have a flash, well then carry on! (we will get to using your flash in a second) Often times you can have your subject back up a bit to allow the light to reflect from the floor to highlight more of those shadowy areas as well. There are a couple of things to remember here when shooting indoors and using the lighting in the room only. Make sure you pay attention to how you have your camera set up. In these situations both white balance and ISO matter! Before you start firing away, make sure first you have everything in order so that your post processing doesn’t get hung up on trying to figure out how to make those blues more cleaner or those reds less annoying!
3. Your flash is your friend - This is one of the more daunting things I have found for newer shooters. The idea of shooting your subject using a flash scares a lot of people but we can make it easy. And there are two ways to do it, TTL or Manual. TTL means “Through The Lens” and Manual is just setting everything (the flash and camera yourself) and both in theory or practice is an easy way to get a really even exposure. But sometimes Theory or practice goes right out the window when we get into the hustle of work. There are so many ways you get get around that but here are just a few;
When Using TTL
I set my camera to a lower aperture here and often shoot wide open around f/1.2-2.0 -
Bounce your flash behind you or above you - I prefer behind me if I am in a smaller room, and above me if I am shooting the reception hall or other bigger spaces. This allows the TTL system, which reads the amount of light including your flash, to help properly expose diffused light! It’s the best!
When using Manual
This gets a little funky but the sure fire way to nail a decent exposure every time is to set your camera to an ISO between 400-800 and your Aperture to 2.8-3.5 and then set your flash to manual and drop the power any where from 1/16 to 1/32 and fire away. (This may vary depending on whether you’re shooting nikon or canon) I don’t like shooting Manually but Lindsey who shoots for me does, and she gets it perfect every time!
Remember regardless of what situation you are in, and whatever lighting conditions you are working with the best thing you can possibly due before a wedding is prepare! Know where you’re going and where you’re shooting. That way anything that comes your way won’t rattle you or affect your ability to provide the best absolute experience for the bride and groom!
Let us know what works for you guys! What are your favorite ways to light your subject indoors?