Chapter 3: Portfolio
As you go through which photos to put on your website, grab your three Branding Words again. I want you to think of them as the river that leads into a delta. Those words should be felt in every single aspect of your business.
I have photographed both couples below, but at very different phases of my career and there is a world of difference between those two types of clients, and the type of experience and photography they are looking for:
You want to be super sharp and consistent on this and it will take some practice and quite a bit of time. As photographers we often form attachments to certain images, and it can be difficult to let those go, but you should only ever show images of people, places, objects, details, and moments, that you would LOVE to do again or do more of.
NEVER show something you would prefer never to do again. If you worked at a church where the light was really truly horrible and you would hate to go back to, don't show that church. If you, like me, just hate super compact traditional bouquets with roses that are so perfect they look like plastic, then don’t show bouquet shots of that type of bouquet. If you don't want to make your clients do cheesy poses, but you worked with a couple who just sort of kept making really cheesy requests, then don't put the images from that shoot online.
When I figured out that I really prefer to work with clients who are getting married outdoors or who are adventurous outdoorsy people and nature lovers, I started showing almost exclusively outdoor ceremonies in my portfolio and portraits in wild nature areas.
I think you get where I’m headed now :-)
Be brutal as you cull your portfolio. This way your message/brand becomes as clear as possible, and potential clients won’t be confused. Like I mentioned before, a ’confused’ client will almost always move on.
Of course I still got church weddings sometimes, and I did get the occasional fussy bride who was worried her shoes would get dirty, but 90% of my clients the past 3-4 years have been adventurous and laid back when it came to their portraits, happily running around in the rain or walking into the sea fully clothed.
It is better to have 10 razor sharp branded photos on your site, than 100 photos that are all over the place in terms of style.
You might be thinking, "Well Camilla, that's easy for you to say because you've shot hundreds of couples now and have a huge portfolio to choose from! I have only very few or no photos that would speak to the type of client I really want to work with!"
But there are ways to remedy that:
First of all, every time you shoot a wedding from now on, even if the couple is not your ideal client or shares your taste or style, there are ways to slightly maneuvre at least a handful of photos from that wedding day into something that feels more like you, while still shooting the rest the way the client wants. When the bride is getting ready, shoot her details in a way that corresponds with her style and the tone of their day, and once you have nailed those, shoot a few more but style them differently, use a different type of background or surface, leave the most cheap pieces out of the shot. During the portrait session you have every opportunity to take charge and guide your clients to create something that feels on brand. If their personal style is SO different from that of your dream client that it is impossible to ignore, think creatively. Maybe you can create a stunning silhuette shot where you can't even see what they're wearing...
Or get in really close...
In the following case, the couple had absolutely impeccable taste. Their personal style was elegant, classic and beautiful and their venue was one of my absolute favourites to shoot at in all of Copenhagen, The Design Museeum. But the bride's choice of bouquet was from a very famous but super traditional florist, and just how I personally don't like them. So aside from doing my job (of course) and servicing my client by taking plenty of wonderful shots that included the bouquet...
...I also made sure to take some with my own portfolio in mind, without the bouquet. At that point I was still eager to attract a very classic high end bride, but it was very important for me to still go after brides who chose modern florists instead of traditional ones. Flowers are one of my favourite things in the world and about weddings and something that can really light me up creatively, so I didn't want to attract more brides with traditional taste (there is a difference between classic and traditional) and I also wanted to inspire my future brides to choose modern floral design.
I am sure you know someone who knows a couple who are the type of people you would just LOVE to photograph. So search your private network. If you can find a couple who are already married and still have their wedding day attire, ask them if they'd like to do an anniversary session of some kind. Or a couple who are not yet married but willing to get in front of your camera for an "engagement" type session, or if they're up for it (many couples who are not married thinks its slightly awkward to pretend, but some will just take it as a fun experience) invest a small amount of money in a dress online that could work as a wedding dress but isn't actually one. Don't minimise the pure pleasure that can arise when you are photographing a great couple without any money changing hands and no pressure to perform. A few years ago I was starting to feel very stale and same-old same-old in my own approach to my work, so I teamed up with a Danish wedding blogger and offered her readers 4 wedding portrait shoots in four locations that I really wanted to shoot at, so I could change things up a bit and just play. No money exchanged hands, they were to wear there own wedding attire and be in charge of hair and makeup, and I got to pick the couples with the best style and look for what I was going for. I arranged for a collaboration with a few local florists and made a few bouquets myself. They had a fun experience and beautiful photos, and I had total creative freedom to create something I really wanted to put in my portfolio:
A third way to get some good stuff in your portfolio is to attend an in-person workshop. Lots of seasoned photographers and wedding planners, florists and stylists offer this opportunity a few times a year, where you can learn with a group of like minded people and get to shoot incredible couples and tablesettings etc. The downside of this option is that it can become extremely expensive with both the workshop itself + travel and accommodation. I learned that the hard way! But I have plenty of colleagues who attend at least one workshop every year, just for that creative boost.
A fourth way, is to collaborate with other wedding professionals to put together a large or small styled shoot. I will go into detail with this in Module 6 which is all about creativity.
If you already have a website up and running, go in and remove any and all images that do not showcase one or more of your branding words.
If you feel like you have nothing (left) to show, consider approaching the next wedding you shoot with both the client and your portfolio in mind. shoot that wedding as if they were your ideal client, pay attention, look around and I am sure you can find some way to create alternate detail shots and portraits which is more in line with what you want.
Ask people you know who has a really cool personal style if you can photography them for free. (Be sure to emphasise that it is to build your portfolio and that the images will be used online).