If repeatability is the cornerstone of photography business success, is it the enemy of creativity?
As photographers, creatives, artists… which should we favour for our paying clients, repeatability or creativity?
What would you want if booking a photographer for yourself?
My first ‘photographer instinct' is creativity.
If I stop and consider, it was the photographers work on their website and Instagram that drew me to them. That's the photography I want. I want to see myself in those photos. That's what I'd be paying for. Isn't it?
As a photographer
If you're anything like me, it's after the shoot I enjoy the most. Seeing what I was able to create. Going over the images in post, picking favourites, reworking some in Photoshop, or Alien Skin's Exposure for me, maybe it's LightRoom for you.
Sometimes, I need to walk away and take time to digest what I've shot to truly appreciate if I feel something is good or not.
This can only happen after a shoot.
During the shoot it's different. Especially weddings, when time is limited, the location has been chosen and you're at the whim of the weather, light and timing.
For me, it comes down to light. Get that sorted first and I'm on my way.
Next, it's backgrounds. Find something that works with the light in the direction it is.
Then I deal with the wind, posing clients or giving directions and everything flows from there… lens choice, angles, framing, composition, exposure.
This happens on what feels like automatic but in reality is decision after decision in the moment.
It's like a running commentary in my head while carrying out a science experiment on the fly… if I drop the shutter speed here to add some blur while following the couple, that'll look cool, ok, drop my ISO to give me the slower shutter speed, try a thirtieth, that works, ok… “You guys look amazing, keep walking, focus on each other, thinking about your honeymoon not your mortgage, love it, love it, this is great, keep walking, you guys look amazing,” check an image, good, change my angle, keep working the scene.
This is creativity in action
Under pressure and in the moment.
All this with a smile on your dial, staying fully engaged with your subjects in a way that elicits the look and feel you picture in the Rolodex catalogue stored in your head, of great photography.
Once I have the shot in my head captured in pixels and saved, it's time to work the angles, change the look and get the most from the one location, setup, pose, moment.
All right… One scene down, onto the next and start over… light, background…
It's a risky shot I described above. Slow shutter speeds, blur, movement and in a new location.
Is this what our clients are paying for?
What happens if you love what you produce but your clients don't?
Was it a successful shoot or is there a bad review on the way?
When a shoot is booked, I LOVE when it's in a location I like to shoot at.
Somewhere I can picture the images I'm going to shoot. I know the light, the location, the direction I'm going to give – I know the results I'm going to get.
In these locations, I'm already thinking about the steak I'll be having for my meal at my favourite reception venue and the short drive home once it's time for me to leave.
It's the same for portrait sessions – give me the last hour of light at low tide in my favourite location with a light nor easter, a few wispy clouds and a family with two kids old enough to take direction and love having photos and I get excited!
In these cases, I know I can deliver exactly what the clients have seen on my website and on display in my studio.
Familiar locations make for repeatable results
When interviewing Sue Bryce, she said, forget about creativity, new locations, poses and styles for every shoot you do if you want a successful business. I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist of her message.
Followed by… a photographer doesn't have a business unless they are able to produce a similar portfolio of images for every client. If that means the same locations, the same poses, the same light for every shoot… Suck it up, leave your photography ego out of it and get to work producing work that is repeatable day in, day out.
When you can do that and you have clients looking to book you for these shoots, that's when you have a real business.
Again, paraphrasing here but you can hear the interview if you click this link: https://photobizx.com/how-to-make-real-money-from-your-photography-business-sue-bryce/
I asked listeners about this subject and Ballarat newborn photographer Justine Locandro has this approach to repeatability. She says…
Having a solid workflow and being able to produce consistency with images is key. Clients know what to expect from their session, but every session I try, at least one new creative pose to challenge myself and to keep improving my photography.
Parents love it too, it’s something they weren’t expecting. These images always sell. Interestingly it’s become a marketing tool as well. I post to Facebook and people comment on posts saying they can’t wait to see what I come up with for their session/next weeks session etc. Makes them feel like I take a personalised approach for each of their sessions.
Essex documentary wedding photographer, Derek Anson may have it right with his comment:
I prefer to ditch the word repeatability and replace it with consistency.
Consistency and creativity can go hand in hand, you don't have to choose one over the other. That doesn't mean every wedding or baby shoot has to be wildly different, if it is, then you're probably at the beginning of your photographic journey anyway.
You can be very consistent or have repeatability in what you create without being a ‘cookie-cutter' photographer.
Being consistently brilliant in all areas of your business is the key, not just the photography.
Do you have the guts to market, share and show something different on your website?
If consistency or repeatability is the key to business success and you want to maintain creative freedom at your shoots, make sure you have your go-to shots done before you go rogue.
Get those creative, experimental images on your website and make it clear to your clients, they are in for a ride if they book you for their shoot and to expect the unexpected with no promises if they allow you creative freedom.
My bet is, with this approach, you'll be busier than ever because there will always be clients who want to pay for something different, out of the ordinary and unique.
If this is you… do you have the guts to market, share and show off these images and start making your own path?
Or, will you look back in twenty years time and think you played it too safe and never really took the chance to get creative and shoot in a way to make your work stand out?