|An upcoming ad for the Sag Harbor Express|
It has been happening slowly, over the last year or two, but now I see the tidal wave. If I were getting started in the wedding photography industry today, I would not choose to be a photographer (at least initially)....I would start a company that does "branding and design" for other photographers. And I would be rich in no time....and then I would pursue the less lucrative, but infinitely rewarding career in photography.
New logos, inspiration boards, new colors, a fresh look, a new message....who doesn't want all of these things? In fact, I would love them myself. I am constantly falling in love with other people's websites, logos, blogs and 'brands'. I get easily bored with the one I have, and inspired by all the goodies around me. It doesn't help that I have ridiculously high standards for myself, so of course that means that most of what I do is never good enough (for me).
But when will enough be enough? When do I have enough shoes? When have I lost enough weight (don't get me started here!). When is my website 'good enough'? If it isn't broken, do I need to fix it? When is a new website not the answer to ...well....everything? I recognize this feeling.....the feeling of "as soon as my website is done, you will all know how great I am".
As it turns out, every time I think I need a new "look", some friend, colleague, or complete stranger reminds me that I don't. They remind me that my work is lovely (even on the days I am not feeling that way), and they don't need to see a new website to know that. They remind me that there is no perfect new look. They remind me that 20 years of timeless photos really speak for themselves.
I think I have the most incredible group of clients on earth. I love what I do because I love the people I get to meet through my work. So many have become my friends. Many are people I work with year after year shooting family portraits. They love photography almost as much as I do. Many of them could hire anyone...and I mean anyone...including Annie Leibovitz (who has a Wikipedia page, but not a website), and they choose me. That is a huge honor which makes me a bit nervous, and a huge responsibility which I do not take lightly. I put my heart and soul into every shoot. Not every day is my most brilliant day, but like I said, my standards are impossibly high. I should learn to feel more satisfied that my best on any given day is as good as it gets. I certainly give it my best shot.
Much of my greatest work cannot be shown, even on my own website or blog. Believe me, I wish I could, but my clients need privacy more than I need publicity, and so most of my photos are seen only in private homes. But I know the photos are loved, and that makes me happy. I know that they tell their friends and family about me, and that word of mouth referrals are the only advertisements that have ever worked for me. This is just as true in 2011 as it was in 1991 when I shot my first wedding, or in 2001 when I built my first website.
I may feel invisible sometimes, but the truth is I am anything but. I feel like I need to advertise, need more editorial, better SEO, more more more....but none of that ever seems to make a difference. If you Google "New York Wedding Photographers/New York Photographers/NYC Wedding photographer", you will likely find me on page one...for now....and yet I am not sure if it matters. I would rather spend my time making my existing clients happy. More than once, a bride has said to me, "You were my first call". Seriously? Before a planner? Before a venue? First call? Dang. I am flattered. But I need to take this as a sign that my work speaks for itself, and no one is finding me because of Google or my website.
I recently asked one of my good friends, a former bride and client, what she saw in my work. I should have recorded her answer, because a lot of it surprised me. She felt I had the gift of empathy in my photography, an ability to see and feel people in a way that not everyone does. She said it was like I was taking pictures of people from the inside out. I told her that I thought I just took the snapshots that people's friends would take if they knew how to use a camera better. She said it was so much more than that. Perhaps this is the core of why I can't "re-brand myself". I don't even seem to understand what I do as well as my clients do. I should ask more of them what it is that they think I do.....and put them on my new and improved website.
I still feel like I need new branding. I will probably always feel that way. Clearly I am not alone. I just read Lara Casey's blog post about "Making Brands Happen", and she is fully booked for the rest of 2011 and into 2012. Three weeks ago, I had the option of a spot in June this year. What does that tell you? It tells me I should team up with some designers and start a new company!
As it turns out, my goals are much higher than I initially realized, and a new logo and website are not what I really need to get me there. I would see this all differently if I were just getting started, but I am not. Don't get me wrong, branding is the buzzword of the moment because it is very valuable stuff. In my case, a little clever branding wouldn't hurt and might help, but I'd rather have a Wikipedia page than a website any day. My goal is not to just make pretty pictures, pictures worth keeping for a lifetime, but to make a difference. In that department, I am just getting started.