24 December 2011

Reasons why this year sucked less

The bulk of my photography business (can I really call it a business if I don't ever advertise and have never printed any business cards?) comes in from September through November and sometimes a little of it spills into early December.   This is my third such season and, while each has been plagued by fantasies of walking away from the business end of photography altogether, this was most definitely the best season yet.

I thought it was because I had finally learned to say no (and I did turn away a good number of inquiries to commission my services because I didn't want a backlog of unedited photos haunting me at night) and took on fewer sessions than last year, but the fact is that the difference in absolute number of sessions is negligible.  In fact, with my various non-official duties at both kids' schools, my MOMS Club, and the Scout den/pack, I probably shot many, many more frames this year.

A lot of this year's ease can be attributed to better technique and better equipment, which means that there's less editing.  I've got a better handle on the editing software too so I don't mess around too much with superfluous sliders and options.  I'm also a lot more cutthroat and able to delete a so-so frame without as much guilt as before.  That also means I've stopped promising 30 images, but delivering close to 100.  That was a act of shame that reflected my compensating for what I perceived as poor technique with added numbers.  I have to assume that if people didn't enjoy my style, they wouldn't have hired me in the first place.

I stopped scheduling multiple portions of a single session.  That shooting style wreaked havoc on my schedule, making me busy all month long instead of quick shoots here and there that allowed me to dedicate more time to the editing component.  I also stopped scheduling (as many) mini sessions.  I'm doing away with individual minis altogether next year.  It takes nearly the same amount of effort as a full session to drive to a locale, capture 20-30 minutes' worth of frames, and get back home.  But for 4 times the cost, all I have to do is stay another 10-20 minutes for a "full" session.  So unless I'm doing an afternoon of minis back-to-back in 1 locale, there's no way I can manage all that on-site shooting like I did last year.  I still owe 1 prepaid and 1 as yet unpaid mini because I previously promised clients, plus there's a fabulous family that stops by the house and they are quick, easy, and super fun, but other than that, I'm done with mini sessions!  The worst part of shorter portions of a whole session or mini sessions is that they produce sterile, posed images that are not in keeping with my style.  There's just not enough time to relax and get those candids that truly capture the personality of my subjects.  That is also the exact reason why I refer to last year's pre-Christmas rush as soul-killing.  I take no issue with Target, Babies R Us, Sears, and the like.  If you want a portrait of the family all sitting nicely and staring and smiling, then by all means, use these excellent and affordable studios.  But please don't call me!

The biggest difference this year was that I arranged for the boys (sometimes 1, sometimes both) to be with me on just about every shoot.  Seriously, this is not my job and I have a chosen profession to which I hope to return one day.  Shocking revelation: Photography is not it!  So to have to send the boys away means that I'm spending less time with them during this magical and most favorite part of the year.  It also means that my time is worth more.  Last year, I grew increasingly resentful of how little I charged (which is a purposeful statement reflecting my belief that every family deserves to keep treasured photographic memories, not just the filthy rich ones) because I wasn't being paid enough to be apart from my babies.  In fact, it's so important that the kids can come along that it will likely be part of the new business model so that it's incorporated onto the site Information page.  I don't want to feel bad about asking whether the boys can mill about in the background--I want potential clients to know that that is simply part of the deal.  I can happily leave them at home, but I'd have to charge twice as much to even come close to feeling like my time is fairly paid for.  And that's okay, I'm less than half the price of my "competitors" so it's not exactly a big leap.  At the end of every year, I rejigger my pricing schedule and I will probably not increase the session cost (and if I do, it won't be much at all) but I will double the travel fee.  Travel means I'm in the car--not with the kids (whom I love) and not photographing (which I also love)--so I don't love travel.

I'm grateful for these lessons learned and hope that next year is even better than this one!

Random shot of the boys playing with a friend yesterday.  Yes, they are armed and marginally dangerous.  And yes, I took my lens hood off to create the ghosting and flare of a cheaper lens (why?!?).


Amber Riley said...

I so hope we are one of the fun families that stops by for photos!!! Love you Lam! Merry Christmas to you and your family! :)

Lam said...

Yes, I am referring specifically to your fabulous family! The kids are always so sweet and easy to work with! Merry Christmas to you as well!

Amber Riley said...

Lam, we TREASURE every photo you have taken of our family! :)