With over 140 MJ2Day alumni now taking over the globe, I thought it would be fun to do a series on my blog to check in on past attendees and see what they're up to now and how their businesses, lives and photography have been impacted by their experience at the workshop. I've heard so many fun stories from past attendees that leave me beaming with pride at their coolness and I can't wait to share!
Here's Michelle in action -- and a shot of her smile!!
We get photographers at all stages of their businesses at the MJ2Day and Michelle was a newbie when she came to the workshop. She had been slowly trying to turn her passion for photography into a business for about a year at that point. She was shooting anything and everything for experience and was struggling to bring any type of organization to her business.
I interviewed Michelle for this post and I love what she shares in answer to the first question:
Q: What is the biggest difference in your photography since attending the MJ2Day?
A: Where to start?! Before the workshop, shooting and editing were two completely different entities -- they were unrelated, separate from each other. And I needed work with both. I learned to see light during the mock shoot! I had no idea that light, alone, had so much power to affect a situation and image. I also loved that Melissa showed us how she interacted with her clients -- it was so natural and effortless! I had been grasping at straws to pose my clients in the best ways possible, which was limiting their raw emotion. I was also really into tilted horizons and awkward angles. It was awesome :).
I was also over-editing all my images, and had tried countless actions and formulas to figure out what "my style" was. I definitely wasn't consistent, either, even within a single session. When Melissa showed us how simple it can be to edit photographs it changed my life! After I started using light to determine how I shot, editing became a cinch and my style became much less edited, and way more natural and filled with light.
I also started narrowing down what style I loved and stuck to it. I had been following WAY too many photographers and artists, but I made a decision to be more selective and to learn only from those whose style matched where I wanted to be headed.
Here are some examples of Michelle's work before the workshop:
And here are some examples of her work since the workshop:
Incredible! Michelle has mastered the use of natural light and I love how it has shaped her photography -- creating a consistent style.
Q: What is the biggest difference in your business since attending the MJ2Day?
A: Systems!! Systematize, systematize, systematize! I was really terrified of the business part of being a wedding photographer -- I could never keep anything straight, and even with my mediocre systems I was misplacing client information and feeling like a mess the whole time. I was stunned at how much Melissa loved having a business, and how easy she made it seem! I have truly fallen in love with running my business. I've since implemented Pictage and ShootQ, which have both drastically improved the way my business runs. I use email templates for common responses, have a strict blog schedule, and have solidified (and systematized) how I package all my client's images. It's so peaceful to wake up every day and know that the way I run my business is consistent.
Q: What are some of your goals that you set after attending the workshop that you have since completed?
A: I can't believe so many goals have been accomplished since January 2012! I went through a complete rebrand and gave my business an identity. I systematized my daily workflow, began using ShootQ, upgraded all my equipment, got officially registered as a business, began using Photojunction to design wedding albums (along with Melissa's album design templates), and completely restructured my pricing. I started to fine tune my shooting style, and have become really comfortable with my editing style, too. I realized that weddings really fired me up, while family and kids' sessions terrified me -- so I decided to specialize in weddings, engagements, and bridals. I ended up shooting 22 weddings in 2012 (including my first destination wedding!), a few of which were featured on wedding blogs, and I'm so excited for the rest of 2013 as well. I'm currently in the process of narrowing down the style of weddings I love, which I never even dreamed would be an option! But I'm excited to see where my business will be in another year or so because of that.
Q: Have you made any changes to your website or branding since the workshop?
A: YES. I tried for months to create my own identity, and finally realized I needed a pro! This is a screenshot from my old website to show you what it was:
After the workshop I hired Shauna Maness to give my business a complete brand makeover, and we changed my business name from Michelle B. Photographie to Michelle Boyd Photography. I'm very pleased with the online presence and identity my business has taken! You can see my current site by clicking here. And here is a screen shot so you can compare the new look with the old:
Later this year I will be going through the rebranding process again with Making Brands Happen, to refine my brand even better to match the style of weddings and clients that I am fired up by.
Q: Have your prices, booking rate and/or the type of clients you book changed since the workshop?
A: Definitely! Before the workshop I had been booking weddings for $1000-$1500. After the workshop I did loads of goal setting and running numbers to figure out what I would need to make to keep my business running and growing, and also considering the particular market I wanted to target. My prices have increased a few times over the past year, and my collections now start at $2,800, with the average client spending about $3,500.
When my prices were so low back before the workshop, I had practically a 95% successful booking rate, and then once I began to increase my collections I did notice a big drop -- BUT I began to book more and more of my ideal clients! As I've grown more, photographed more, blogged more, and shared more of the work that I truly love, I've booked brides that are more and more my ideal client, with my ideal weddings. While I have loved every wedding I've ever photographed, the ones that truly make my heart skip a beat are all outdoors, whimsical, artfully curated, and very joyful celebrations.
Q: Talk about the relationships you made as a result of the workshop. What relevance do they have for your business today?
A: The atmosphere of the MJ2Day was a turning point for me -- everyone who attended was so loving, kind, and had the same eagerness to learn, that it revolutionized how I view the photography industry. It is no longer a competitive place, but is instead a loving community. I learned first-hand that when you encourage and truly love your peers, you can build amazing friendships. A willingness to help each other and share knowledge is truly life-giving.
I was so nervous to attend a workshop on my own, especially in a different state! Both myself and one other attendee, Jessica Sowyrda, arrived early on the first day, and decided to grab lunch together... and as they say the rest is history. Jess has become an incredible friend, and I had the honor of photographing her wedding this past February! It has been such a blessing to be encouraged by her and to know another "sister" who is growing and building her business at the same time as me.
Q: Are there any other changes or exciting developments you'd like to share?
A: Being able to say that I love running a business is so huge for me! Having everything systematized has allowed me to start photographing more of what fires me up, while at the same time keeping me less stressed. I've had time to teach my sweet husband (pictured below) how to shoot, which means he's now my full time second shooter. I've also been able to start dabbling in shooting film, which is digging my passion for photography even deeper.
My time since the workshop has been an incredible learning and growing experience. I am so encouraged by the clients who have trusted me with a little snippet of their lives. I'm also really thankful for the encouragement of the wedding industry! I was named one of the top 15 photographers to watch out for in 2013 by Le Magnifique wedding blog, which totally blew my mind! I am so humbled and blessed by people who have supported me over the past couple of years, and I'm excited to keep learning and pursuing what I love in the years to come.
Melissa, I am so thankful for your willingness to share your knowledge, and to encourage photographers all over the world. I seriously cannot say thank you enough.
Thank YOU for sharing with us, Michelle! Congrats on your amazing success! I'm blown away by what you've accomplished in one short year since the workshop. I can only imagine where the remainder of your career might take you!!
I get asked all the time what the right aperture is to use when photographing large groups. I could answer this question, but aperture is only one part of the equation for depth of field. And oftentimes, I think photographers are using an adequate aperture but are still unable to get the whole group in focus. In this post I am going to explain why.
There are three components that impact your depth of field -- aperture, focal length, and subject to camera distance. If you want a tutorial on how each of these variables impacts depth of field, I've written that blog post here. In this post, I'm going to shed light on a simple mistake photographers often make when photographing group portraits. If you have ever looked at your images on the computer and wondered why the people on the edges of the group are out of focus, this post may clarify why.
As portrayed in the above visual aid, if I am focusing on the middle person in the group, a third of my depth of field will be in front of that person and two-thirds will be behind.
The problem arises when groups form into a typical U-shape formation with the people on the edges closer to the camera than the people in the center. This next illustration is a top down arial view (with the circles representing the tops of the group member's heads).
If the photographer focuses on the middle person in this group, as is typical, they are not making the most of their depth of field. Whatever is behind the group will be sharply in focus, but the front few folks on either edge of the group will likely be soft.
Here's an example image. My lovely models are attendees from my recent MJ2Day workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina. Cute bunch, huh? This photo was taken with my 50 1.2 at f3.5 -- which should be a perfectly sufficient aperture for this size group. Note that the red box in this photo represents where my focus point was. Also note that we can't tell how cute Leslie and Melissa are because they are on the edges of the group and didn't make the depth-of-field cut. :(
What if, instead of focusing on the middle person in the group, we focused on the closest person to the camera? In the common U-shape formation, that would be the person on the edge. We are using back-button focus, so we can lock onto that person and recompose. Notice how our depth of field shifts to encompass the whole group:
Here's the same exact group shot with the same exact settings as the previous image. Notice where I put my focus point in this photo:
And note how much cuter Leslie and Melissa look:
So simple and so effective! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!
*Edited to add: When people get into a U-shape, I often ask those on the edges to step back so that they form more of a straight line. This allows me to use a lower aperture and still ensure that everyone is in focus. But regardless of the formation, I make sure to focus on the person closest to the camera.
The attendees for the Charlotte MJ2DAY were such a fun group! They came from all over the country & Canada to learn, and I effectively poured the entire contents of my brain on them. It was a lot, but I SO enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them in the process!
The workshop took place at Leslie's home in beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina:
Leslie's husband made us a sign to welcome the attendees. I was blown away by his talent!
The garden in Leslie's yard was in full bloom and we couldn't spend enough time outside:
When I arrived to set up for the workshop, I was welcomed by some sweet homemade signs in my guest room:
Leslie's house was beautiful and she made us feel right at home.
Of course, the best homemade chocolate chip cookies EVER and fun goodie-bags were on hand for the attendees when they arrived:
During day one of the workshop, I covered all sorts of photography-related topics including shooting techniques, looking for good light, finding locations, interacting with clients, posing, and off-camera flash.
On day two we talk about all things business: the state of the market, workflow, album design & sales, blogging & social media, website & branding, pricing, vendor relations & networking, and initial client meetings. I was also able to do 15-minute individual consultations with each attendee to answer any remaining questions they had. I love that time -- it really gave me a chance to connect with each one individually.
Stay tuned! In my next post I will be sharing more photos from the workshop and from our mock engagement shoot in Leslie's gorgeous yard!
Today I'm continuing my series for photographers in which I share tips for organizing and systematizing your workflow. And when I say "workflow," I don't mean it in the narrow sense of post-processing. I mean the entire customer experience and set-up of our businesses. If you're just joining us, click below to get caught up on the series so far!
How many of you, as you are writing an email, experience deja vu because you've written the same basic email before, and all the while you know you're going to most likely write it again? We're all guilty of it. At numerous points in the client experience, we need to communicate the same set of information to each client right? When an inquiry comes in and we are available, we need to send out a few questions and our pricing and package info. When we finish an album design for a client, we need to send them a link to the proof, but we also need to remember to include instructions for how to communicate revisions. And the list goes on.
Enter email templates. Email templates are a must for systematizing workflow. They help save time and they also help to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. We need to remember to communicate certain things at different points in the client experience, and if we write each email from scratch, we are bound to forget important bits of information here and there, and each client is likely to have a very different experience and level of customer service.
There are various ways to use email templates. Some studio management software like ShootQ includes email templates in their online interface. And there's always the old-fashioned copy-and-paste method using Word or TextEdit. But the quickest, most brilliant, and least expensive way to implement email templates, is built right into your email program.
How many of you have a signature that you drop in to the end of your emails with your name, business name, link to your website, and contact info? Most everyone -- that's what the signature field is for. But your signature drop-down menu can be used for so much more. I use mine for my 70+ email templates.
I've created my email templates over time. Each time I am writing an email that I know I am likely going to write again, I copy and paste the body of the email into a new email signature (located under "Preferences" in my Mac Mail program) and give it an appropriate name. It doesn't matter that I've used a specific client's name or a specific link that won't be relevant next time I write the same basic email...when that time comes, I use the signature drop-down to insert the email template into the new email and then thoroughly read and customize it as needed.
Some of you who have never used email templates before might be concerned that using a template is not very personal. But that isn't necessarily true. The first time I write an email, I put a lot of thought into what I am saying and how I want to express it. So the email, though a copy from one I've written before, is no less heartfelt. Plus I always customize my emails after dropping in a template. So there's an opportunity to insert a more specific greeting or additional sentiments. But the great thing is that you can have confidence that the critical content that needs to be communicated is there. Plus you don't need to reinvent the wheel and use valuable brain-power to remember it all.
If you're interested in getting a jump-start on using email templates, I sell 14 of my most commonly used templates here. They're available to you, but I'm not going to be a very good sales person here, because I would encourage you to write your own. That way they will be in your voice and specific to how you run your business. Writing your own email templates doesn't need to be a big task on your to-do list. In fact, it doesn't need to be added to your to-do list at all. Just be disciplined to take the extra minute each time you write a new email that you know you will need to write again, to copy and paste it into a new signature. Over time, you'll have a long list of templates accessible by drop-down and you will be flying through your email replies and workflow in a fraction of the time that it takes you now.
I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate our one year mark and share with you a little bit about where Align is at and where we're going. When I started Align a year ago, my vision was to offer photographers an affordable, fast option for outsourcing a portion of their workflow so they could focus on what they really enjoy doing -- shooting, building their businesses and spending time with their loved ones. We wanted to stick to a very clean design style that shows off the photographer's images and helps to tell the story of the day. I'm thrilled that a year into this endeavor, we are doing just that!
We currently serve 134 studios around the states and the world (4 in the UK, 4 in Australia, 1 in New Zealand, and 1 in Costa Rica -- we love our international clients!). For the last few months, we've averaged close to 50 designs per month. We currently have 5 designers and a few more in training to keep up with the growth we expect this summer. I couldn't be more thrilled with our first year in business and can't wait to see what the future holds!
If you haven't stopped by Align's website recently, you may want to check it out. We have a few updates to the site that I'm really excited about. On our About Page, you can see photos of our team and get to know us a little bit. And last month we launched a blog!
Thank you to those of you who have used Align's services and spread the news about us to others! We've had so much good feedback as well as constructive feedback about how to make our services better. And we continue to listen and make changes so that we can offer the best service possible to photographers.