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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Professional Photographer Monthly Column August 2014


TIME TO CELEBRATE

It’s Friday afternoon and the end of lovely week of training up in the Lakes.  I’ve met many new people, seen old friends and had wonderful feedback from photographers who have left excited and with new found confidence.  The week began with the announcement that I will be representing Nikon UK as one of their Ambassadors.  It is an achievement that I am hugely proud of and many of the wonderful comments following the news acknowledged that it is the result of a great deal of hard work and commitment to the industry.   A fair few also mentioned the prospect of kit…

You don’t take on the responsibility of being a brand Ambassador because of the new camera bodies and lenses  - although of course this is a wonderful part of it.  As it goes I was a loyal Nikonian anyway.  If any of you read the Lottery Wish List article last month you’ll notice I spent the least and I chose a Nikon Df over a medium format system because it’s what I genuinely wanted.  And this was BEFORE the Ambassador scheme was ever discussed.

I absolutely love my kit – it works exceptionally hard for me and has become an extension of my hands.  When I am training photographers I always say that you need to know your kit intimately because at the end of the day our success as people photographers comes down to the decisive moment.  It is about knowing exactly the right moment to press the shutter – having already made decisions about lens choice and light.

So enough about kit – Nikon are trusting me with their brand and it is a role I will take very seriously.  I am delighted that I have been chosen to represent the Lifestyle sector in the UK – I believe it is an exciting time for all of us who use this label to describe our work.  According to Wiki ‘Lifestyle Photography’ is a ‘style of portrait/people photography which aims to capture and document real-life events, situations, or milestones in an artistic manner and the art of the everyday’.

I think that this is a pretty good definition – I certainly try and reflect my clients stories – their life and style choices – in a genuine and artistic way.  For my clients it is a luxury item and they come to me because they want something bespoke. I truly believe that this is a growth market in the UK and one that offers great opportunities for photographers.  It is also a very easy market for new businesses to enter and I often read people moaning about this ‘glut’ of newcomers and the resulting competitiveness.  

The reality of course is that most people enter the market with no real idea of what it takes to be successful – they have no business experience, no brand and they aren’t prepared to invest in the type of camera bodies and lenses that a pro photographer needs.   Do these photographers worry me?  Not in the slightest because my clients would never be attracted to them in the first place.

I am often told that I am an inspiration to photographers who are at the beginning of their journey and Nikon’s endorsement will mean even more people will look to me for advice and reassurance of what is possible.  And based on the last 4 years I am testament to the fact that amazing things can happen.

However, nothing that I have achieved is down to luck.  The wiki definition of this interesting word states that it is a purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable force that shapes events favorably or unfavorably for an individual’.  I believe you create luck through huge effort, commitment and dedication.  It certainly means that you appreciate achievements when you know you have earnt them!

So it is time for me to celebrate – to pop open a bottle of bubbles and pat myself on the back.  If you know me – and I don’t mean on FB or Twitter – you will be aware that I don’t ever take time to do this.  I have absolutely no ego and am constantly striving to be a better image maker and story teller. 

I have a wedding tomorrow and then I am jumping on a plane and heading to Turkey to drink juice and do yoga on a mountain for 5 days.  This isn’t normal for me and I agreed to go with a friend when I was on holiday in South Africa very aware of the benefits of taking time out.  I’m going to go off grid and have some me time.  I mentioned this to the team at Nikon (apparently the sunsets are amazing) and they’ve sent me a Nikon 1 V3 and a couple of lenses to have a play with. Lucky Kate?  I guess it depends on your outlook.

Professional Photographer Column October 2014


POSITIONING THE BATTLE FOR YOUR MIND

I had quite a few of you lovely readers get in touch after the last column to ask me how I cope with the pace of it all.  And the truth of course is not that easily.  However, for this month let’s get back to talking about strategy and in particular a marketing term that I believe should play a fundamental role in any photography business.

Over the last few weeks there has been a marked increase in the number of you getting in touch with enquiries about mentoring and training and making very specific reference to my approach to pricing and the ‘model’ that I have implemented which has changed my business and attitude to sales. 

Using a pricing model that is proven is obviously a great start but it is not that simple because every product/service is differentiated by their own specific complexities.  To put this into context most of us are now trading digital files - maybe not exclusively but certainly as an option.  And so we must address the question when discussing pricing – what is a high resolution jpeg actually worth?   

Wiki answers the generic question of worth by stating that today's most common answer is one of those answers that are so deceptively simple that it seems obvious when you know it. But then remember that it took economists more than a hundred years to figure it out: "Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it". (Jonathan Reeves).  So therefore the notion of ‘Value’ in economic terms is the worth of goods and services as determined by markets. 

Here’s another simple, but important, statement: It is just not possible to create a market strategy that is all things to all customers. So first you must determine your positioning strategy.  At its simplest this is defining the market in which the product or brand will compete – ie who the relevant buyers are.  Your target audience will help you to define your product according to their needs and buying characteristics.   

I know this sounds obvious – which it is of course.  But you might just be surprised how many photographers can’t define their client base.  They just want to be booked – by someone who will like their work.  When I first began to think about launching a business the strategic process began with market positioning.  This led to me being able to create a brief for my brand and identity.  Which helped my define my products and service level and finally led to me being able to price my business. 

 I am now at the stage with pricing that my clients find me reassuringly expensive.  This is critical – they would be worried if I was charging any less because it just wouldn’t make sense to them. Simply put, the price of an item tells the buyer more about the item than most realise. Many associate a higher price with higher quality and the opposite with a lower price

Back in the 60s Al Ries and Jack Trout stated that "Positioning is not what you do to a product; it is what you do to the mind of a prospect."  Hence their brilliant title for a book – Positioning – The Battle For Your Mind.

At the end of the day your brand, product and service must be attractive to your target audience – it must immediately make a distinct impression in their mind which will help them to judge you against competing brands and place you in a unique space in their mind.  In other words - YOU need to win the battle chaps – in a very competitive market place.

As the saying goes – when you have all of your ducks in a row – things get easier.  My clients now want to work with me and there needs to be a mutual attraction for me to take on the commission.  I was asked about 6 months ago if I regret not shooting ‘niche’ or ‘alternative’ weddings.  And the honest answer is yes.  BUT going back a few paragraphs, I can’t be all things to all customers, so early on I positioned myself as ‘high end, elegant, classical’.  Because these clients have budgets and they pay me well.  This was a business decision and not an artistic decision.  I need to earn money to support my children and I need clients who are prepared to pay me good money do deliver them beautiful imagery.

The key point here – I hope – is that you need to make these decisions in the infancy of a business in preparation for it reaching maturity.  My brand, my website and my marketing comms material were waiting in the wings  – for the photographer and pricing model to catch up.   And they have. 

If you are losing sleep over pricing, which I know many of you are, then stop and think for a minute.  Have you actually positioned your business?  Because every subsequent, strategic, step you take should fall out of the answer to that question.


Professional Photographer Monthly Column September 2014

A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF KHS



The content for my columns is entirely reflective of what’s happening in the business around the time of the submission date.  Sitting on a bus today driving through the Tuscan landscape (with a Rabbi, band and DJ) I was mulling over what to write about.  I began to think back over the previous 7 days and realised that the sheer contrasts were both a little bizarre and also extremely normal.  So I’m just going to give an overview of what I’ve been up to.  A week in the life of KHS mid crazy season….

So last Sunday I had a day off – which began with an hour backing up from a wedding and answering emails.  I then went to see my folks with the kids, had a bbq and fell asleep in the sun.  After the kids were bathed and in bed I edited the last stage of a wedding until about 1am. 

Monday started with a drive into London for a very special shoot.  I had been contacted the week before by the parents of a 3 month old baby who had been born with a cleft lip.  They wanted a shoot to celebrate her smile before it changed forever on the Thursday.   It was wonderful and I left feeling very grateful for my job and the people I have met though it.   Admin and email all afternoon before supper with 2 friends who I met though photography.

Tuesday morning I had a (long) meeting with a wedding planner and bride, wrote a 7 page article for a magazine, caught up with clients and edited a portrait shoot.  That evening I edited a boudoir shoot until about midnight.  Wednesday morning I had a half day kick off mentoring session with a lovely photographer.  As usual I dealt with some confidence and insecurity issues – what I now refer to as ‘photographers sickness’ because it is so common.   In the afternoon Becky and I announced we are looking for a part time Editor because I am shooting so much . I then ran out the door to my daughter’s sports day and stood on the sideline cheering her on.  That evening I drove into London to see some of my closest girlfriends – my social life is so shocking at this time of year that this is precious time that I can ill afford. 

On Thursday morning I had a 3 hour shoot with Agata – the photographer I previously mentioned in relation to her bump shoot.  She’s had the baby and wanted the family shots that she can’t do herself.  On the way home from London my brakes started making weird noises so I took it into a garage to discover the brake pad was stuck on one tyre and my car was dangerous.  They suggested they could fix it on Monday but I had to explain that I am a wedding photographer and being without a car is just not feasible.   When I finally got home it was to the delivery of my new D4S and got totally sidetracked as I unpacked it and got the battery on to charge whilst ordering XQD cards.   That evening I designed a boudoir album that has to be ready in 4 weeks because it is a present for a groom.

I hoped Friday would be quiet and a chance to prepare for my back to back weddings – 1 in the UK and 1 in Italy.  The car/brakes issue took up a lot of time and I had to let a bride know I wouldn’t make it to the wedding rehearsal.   It was  a day of achieving very little which isn’t a good thing at this time of year.   I did make it to the wedding venue the night before and put my head down for some sleep.  The Saturday wedding was all outside so much of the morning revolved around weather related decisions.  I really don’t understand any UK bride who banks on getting married outside, however this one was lucky.  I finished around 11 and got in the car and drove to Gatwick to my Yotel room.  I then started recharging batteries and backing up the wedding – climbing into bed at 2am dreading my 4am wake up call. 

I dozed most of the way to Pisa on the plane and then spent the hour and a half bus transfer looking out the window enjoying the view.   This was because I knew that as soon as we reached the venue I was starting work again.  The Tuscan (Jewish) wedding was quite extraordinary in every way and a huge challenge in terms of light for much of it.  And do you know what happened?  I tripped and half fell into the pool at about 1am whilst photographing the wedding party walking over to the dancefloor.  My D3s and a speedlight had a brief dip but luckily were attached to my Holdfast so came back out again….I was obviously a bit mortified but actually more concerned about my kit.  My camera is not so good but the memory cards are fine!  I collapsed into bed at about 3am at the end of another crazy week.

Professional Photographer Monthly Column July 2014

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MY LITTLE MONSTER


The last month has gone by in a blink of an eye.  This common turn of phrase is actually particularly appropriate because I haven’t had enough sleep at all…  The business turned 4 and my little monster continues to need feeding, in terms of energy and time, at a pace I can barely maintain. In broad terms I have to give my energy to two very different audiences – consumer clients and photographers who want knowledge.  

The consumers come in search of a product that they desire but often with a reluctance about the process of getting it – ie actually having to be photographed.  So much of the early stages of managing this relationship comes down to psychology  and people skills.  I know I’m good at this – it’s probably my greatest business asset.  I have always been overly sensitive to how people are feeling around me and I am able to instantly judge how to communicate with my clients to get what I need.  I am also a very direct and honest person so I deal with how people are feeling and make them deal with it too.  You need to knock down these barriers before you can possibly capture natural expression that reflects who a person truly is. 

Once I get an understanding of the ‘who’ I am able to make decisions about the ‘how’.  By which I mean how to photograph each individual because the way that I ‘pose’ people has got to be right for them.  For example I see a lot of wedding photography where the bride is standing with both hands on her hips, elbows swung away from the body in a stance taken straight from a fashion spread.  And it looks ridiculous because very few women ever, ever stand like that in every day life.

I come away from every shoot drained and this is mostly due to the intensity of the interaction rather than the concentration required on the technical side. It is very common for my clients to actually mention how tiring my job must be because they can feel all the benefit of that positive energy coming right at them.

I am left equally tired when I finish a training session – whether a 1to1 or with a group of 10 photographers.  Understandably they are there to extricate as much knowledge as they can and the conversation can get very technical.  I like to give a huge amount of information when I am training and it is normal for my delegates to feel exhausted by the end too – however, not just due to information overload but also because they are emotionally drained.  A big part of training involves dealing with insecurities and doubts – many photographers have confidence issues and I like to find out what they are and try to help people deal with them. 

And then of course there are the times when the two worlds collide and a photographer books me. I take it as a huge compliment but would be lying if I said it didn’t add an extra level of stress to a shoot because I find that their expectation levels are high.   On the surface the actual shoots are more relaxed – I don’t have to make small talk and can discuss light and glass quite openly which is lovely.  What doesn’t change is the effort required to put people at ease and get natural, genuine expression – most photographers don’t like being photographed either.  However, they do tend to know what they want – which is more than can be said for the average client – and I encourage photographer clients to use Pinterest leading up to the shoots to try and get inside their head as much as possible. Once the shoots begin I find them enjoyable because the added pressure of expectation tends to keep me on my toes creatively.   I stopped offering maternity shoots about 2 years ago when I streamlined the business and now only do them for photographers who specifically ask me.  This was the case with Agata (pictured) recently and I loved it because she chose me very specifically for my style and it felt totally collaborative from start to finish.   During the shoot I was showing her the odd shot on the back of the camera and she was wonderfully reassured – saying ‘that’s exactly what I wanted’.

Shoots with other photographers also leave me thinking I should really get myself in front of the camera more often too.  Who would I choose?  Hmmmm – it would have to come down to the combination of a style I admire and love with the right personality and energy to capture the real Kate on camera.

Professional Photographer Column June 2014


A QUESTION OF FINISH

I have mentioned in the column before how a change in approach to pricing has had a huge impact on my business and how I feel about sales.  At the core of the remodeling has been the introduction of charging an hourly rate – for shooting but also for post production.  We all know the digital reality of the hours spent behind a computer screen and I believe that it is necessary for us to educate our clients about it.

Most of the photographers I train baulk at the prospect of putting a number next to their hourly worth for shooting – which I understand, but at the end of the day the figure needs to be a reflection of their skill and market position as well as taking into consideration the cost of kit and insurance. 

I believe that charging an hourly rate for post production is also vital – particularly for a photographer like me.  One that believes ‘finish’ is very important and that it involves a level of service that my clients need to be prepared to pay for.  Why?  Because it takes time.  

In the ‘My Approach To Weddings’ section of the information that I send to interested couples I say: Shooting your wedding day itself is just the beginning.  Whilst you are away on honeymoon I hand edit every image that plays its part in the story of your day.  I take great care in this post production stage to create a stunning and individual finish – so that your images look and feel a long way from the hundreds of extra images that you will be given by friends and family”.  And then later under ‘Wedding Packages and Pricing’ I further reiterate the process by saying  As you may have discovered, there are many different ways that people choose to price wedding photography and so I want to be totally transparent about what you are paying for. The most important thing that you are investing in is actually my time – it takes a lot of effort and skill to make beautiful pictures, both during the capture and afterwards in post-production.

Charging properly for the post production stage has changed the way I feel about editing too – it is no longer a cross to bear.  I have discovered that, on average, an hour of shooting equals an hour of editing which means I can schedule post production into my work diary and approach it in the full knowledge that I am being paid to do it. 

Now some of you may be reading this thinking that you take much longer to edit a wedding or shoot than that.  I’ve been there and it’s not a great place to be – it can feel like you are selling your soul to the LR/PS Devil.  I openly admit that my editing time has decreased as my in camera skills have increased – at the end of the day post production should be the icing on the cake and not an attempt to save a poor image.  Creating a manageable workflow has also been essential and has taken time and investment.  I eventually gave in to the idea of outsourcing the middle stage of a wedding edit and I now send my shortlisted RAW files to Pro Image Editors in the States who tweak exposure, correct white balance and lens distortion, straighten horizons and take dust spots out of the sky.   The images come back clean via a LR catalogue and for many photographers this would be the stage at which they begin proofing.

For me this is the point at which I begin to tone my work to deliver the look that my customers want.  Many of them can’t put it into words but they all ask me if their images will be ‘warm’, ‘soft’, ‘artistic and ‘timeless’ like those on my website.  I think I’m fairly gentle with my editing (RAW vs Edit above) but for every one customer that loves my style there are probably loads that really don’t like it.  What I have found is that my clients are prepared to pay the extra to have imagery that looks that bit more special.   Over the last four years I have honed my colour and b/w treatments to quite a limited palette and actually had Lightroom presets developed specifically for my brand, delivering both stylistic consistency and workflow efficiency.  It is worth mentioning that clients don’t notice the extra 10% of post production effort that I was once prepared to give every image – now only images destined for albums or frames get that.

On a final note one of the main things that I notice when I am asked to review lifestyle portfolios is the lack of consistency in post production treatment – resulting in the imagery looking eclectic and not the work of one person.  A lot of you agonise over the issue of style and I happen to believe that your post production ‘finish’, or not, plays an important role…

Professional Photographer Column May 2014

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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Pretty much since touching down from South Africa I have been giving talks and running training sessions – sharing my thoughts and experiences about the lifestyle photography market.  A word that I have repeatedly heard is ‘confidence’: generally in terms of this being a vital and lacking component for many photographers.

Many of you have talked to me about your lack of confidence with light, posing, expression, composition, metering – it’s different things for different people but the sentiment is the same.  I have worked exceptionally hard over the last 4 years to keep my learning curve steep – continually adding another jigsaw piece to the puzzle that is photography. As each piece slotted in to place I gained confidence and as a result each shoot became easier until I reached my current state – never over confident about my abilities but able to walk into any scenario and produce consistently, strong, images. 

I have learnt to shoot natural light in three different ways – whether outside or indoors on location – and I can make decisions very quickly on what is the most appropriate option for the concept or mood of the shoot.   When I have beautiful light I am almost dancing as I work – inspired and animated by what is possible.  Of course natural light is completely governed by chance on location so for every shoot where I feel like this there may be many others when I am quietly disappointed.  And will probably end up having to add light to improve what has has been offered up.

Rightly so then, light is my number one.  But the other element that will fight for my affections is location.  God yes.  You see I find the blank space of a studio deeply uninspiring.  It reminds me of years past - sitting with a new canvas in front of me, brushes to hand and the glossy swirls of the oil paint waiting to be disturbed.  I found it daunting.  Which, I have discovered, is how many photographers feel when they are out on location – faced with a canvas already full of sky, trees, buildings and a million other potentially distracting elements. 

I clearly remember when photography became an obsession – when I carried my camera everywhere and took pictures at every opportunity.  I loved every minute of it but it was in my BL phase.  ‘Before Light.  By which I mean I didn’t see light at all – I just saw people and nice backdrops.  I would seek out interesting backgrounds – peeling walls, accents of colour, quirky architectural elements and I would lead my subjects to them with no real grasp of whether the light was any good or not.  

And then I was taught to see light and so began the ‘After Light’ phase – a wonderful place to be but one that also haunts you as you drive down motorways or sit in cafes or watch films… It changes everything if, like me, you choose to shoot on location and predominately use natural light. Environmental portrait shoots have become something of a lottery that are dictated by what opportunities the light presents.  Every shoot begins with an assessment of the light and this leads me to possible locations.  Light first, location second.

As I walk around making decisions on where to shoot I will see something that I find interesting – that is full of potential – only to quickly discover that today is not the day because the light is just not going to deliver what I want or need it to.  For those of you who use artificial lights to deliver a vision, in the location that you want, this must sound frustrating – and you are right.   But when you have 20 – 30 minutes with a couple on their wedding day you don’t have the luxury of time or lighting assistants.   You make the best of the situation and shoot.

I had a portrait shoot recently that was seriously tough.  It was a 3 hour shoot with 7 people and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the only location option was a wood.  I knew it was going to be tough and it took me 15 minutes of walking up and down this wood to make a decision about where to shoot.  Because it was all compromise – harsh, uneven light and distracting trees in every direction.  After 2 hours of working very hard with flash and reflectors we headed back to their house and safe light.

In contrast to this I have just done a boudoir shoot where I had studio flash and continuous lighting systems to hand.  And yet the natural light was so amazing that I was able to use that for most of the shoot – ideas and opportunities presenting themselves as fast as the light was changing. The truth is that I now find overcast light very uninspiring and I know that I need to work locations hard to add the impact that is missing from beautiful light.  This is when location becomes everything and can make the difference between an ordinary shoot and one that will grab your attention.   

Location is on my mind because I’m sat on a plane to New York writing this and whilst I am there I have an engagement shoot.  I am looking forward to it SO much – because I know that I will find inspiration in the location.  It’s the same reason why I am prepared to spend a week with another couple in August who are flying me to Lake Como and Moscow for their wedding.  And the reason why I would never own a studio – because I love the challenge of finding peace amongst the visual noise of a new location. Coupled with light it is the thing that keeps the passion alive when the reality of running a business could easily kill it!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

A complete battery recharge...

Back in January when I was away in South Africa I had an email from a friend of mine asking if I fancied a week away on a juicing retreat.  She mentioned yoga and hiking on a mountain in Turkey.  I liked the sound of it and checked my diary.  Of course I had a wedding booked - but only on one of the Saturdays so I agreed and said I would join Katie 2 days in.

It's safe to say that I didn't really prepare beyond buying some new yoga/fitness kit and asking Nikon if I could borrow a smaller, more transportable camera than my pro bodies.  I took the Nikon 1 V3 with me and 2 lenses - the 10 - 30mm 3.5-5.6 and the 32mm 1.2.  It's very small very powerful tool with a tilt screen touch monitor - 18.4 megapixels with an ISO range from 160 - 12,800.  

I turned up late on the Sunday night and Katie showed me to our tent - it wasn't the quietest first night with a variety of sounds including donkeys, dogs and call to prayer.  Turns out I slept well after this from pure exhaustion.



Juicy Mountain is not for the faint hearted - and Katie and I swopped many a 'look' between each other which said something along the lines of 'how did we get ourselves into this'.  The daily scheduled began at 7am and involved about 7 hours of exercise on juice.  It was proper hiking in the heat, a lot of yoga and then incredibly tough classes like circuits and 'insanity'.

I loved the juicing and can hand on heart say I never felt hungry once.  I had a headache from hell for 24 hours as the detox kicked in.


We did get a break during the hottest hours of the day and most people would head to the pool and collapse.




On Wednesday you get an afternoon on a boat - very much  needed and we all loved every second of it.  The boat left from the port at Gocek which you can see below.  I absolutely love the panorama feature on the camera.





Although the scenery was stunning probably the best part was actually getting to eat some fresh fruit!  I put the Nikon 1 to the test by handing the camera to a complete non photographer and asking him to try and capture me diving off the boat - I was amazed by the option to shoot at 60 frames per second.  When you flick back through the stills it's like watching a movie in slow mo...


The yoga and rebounding platform was built to make the most of the stunning mountain views and I desperately wanted to see an amazing sunset.  Finally we got one and I ran back to the tent to get the camera. In all these images the camera was in touch screen function - you literally put your finger on what you want in focus!


This is me just taking it in and below are 2 pics of Natalie the yoga instructor who was awesome and the amazing Sally shown rebounding - whose mantra of 'get over yourself' kept us all going through the pain and heat that week...





And below my lovely friend Katie and I - an image for us to both remember the trip.


Everyone is encouraged to take a shot at the end of the stay to capture the physical change in your body.  I'm definitely slimmer, stronger and healthier and people cannot stop telling me how well I look. The truth is I feel even better.



On the last day after check out we had a few hours more in Gocek - where we ate our first meal.  We all opted for yet another fresh juice despite people drinking cold wine and beer around us.







I ordered myself a juicer and blender from the retreat and continue to juice every day alongside a more normal but healthy diet.  I can't recommend the retreat enough but it's no holiday...  My batteries are completely recharged.  Turns out I don't want to give the Nikon 1 back - it's a very clever  little camera.




 

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