Chapter 4: The Big Mistakes
Making mistakes is part of growing and learning, and some mistakes you need to learn from on your own terms, but here are some things you can learn from me and avoid or at least think about as you build your business and move forward:
1. WORKING LATE INTO THE NIGHT EVERY SINGLE DAY.
It is a well-known fact now that lack of sleep is detrimental to both your physical and mental health. But 10 years ago there wasn't so much focus on this issue. Furthermore, I was a new mom, and nights seemed to be the only time I could catch up on all the stuff I couldn't get done during the day. For the first 4-5 years of my business, most days I worked until two or three in the morning. I think the only reason I was even able to do it for so many years was because I was riding the wave of my night-owl/new mum hormones as well as my own enthusiasm and passion for this project, my new business, my second baby.
I learned the hard way. But over time, I promise you, not sleeping enough WILL kill your motivation, your positivity, and your inspiration. The last year or so leading up to me getting really ill with stress and depression, I felt like a walking hollow shell, always behind, always exhausted.
A late night here and there won't kill you, but I guarantee you will be FAR MORE PRODUCTIVE in the long term if you go to bed and wake up refreshed and continue your work at full speed, than if you keep working all night at just half-speed and start making silly mistakes that will need to be re-done or corrected later anyway.
2. BEING TOO CHEAP FOR TOO LONG.
When I first started out I charged 500 Dkk (approximately 70 Euro) for a portrait session (both families and weddings). Even though I booked lots of clients, thus gaining lots of practice and improving my shooting and editing quickly, I was not making any real profit and I was not happy. I was far too slow to raise my prices. And even when I did, I stayed in the medium-level puddle for far too long.
This "puddle" is where you are paid just enough to feel like you couldn't possibly ask for more, but without actually turning a profit that allows you to grow and invest in your business. In that price range the weddings look great and the clients are kind sweet people. But it is also the price range where the clients always want MORE for their money, more hours, more images etc, and where all the people who are not willing to pay a proper price for wedding photography try to pressure you down to their level and are not very nice about it when you say no. It is the price range where couples will call you up, not caring who you are and tell you that your prices are ridicolous, or literally laugh when you tell them your price (yes that actually happened!). Basically making you feel like shit on a daily basis.
Here in Denmark, the medium price range in my experience is the spot between 10.000-18.000 Dkk for full day coverage (meaning 12-16 hours). Once I took the leap and jumped that fence into the 18.000-30.000 Dkk range my life became so much easier. I have never since been forced to justify my prices. My clients value my time, my experience and my art. The only "problem" was that there simply aren't enough couples getting married in Denmark who are willing to pay that price for a wedding photographer for me to make ends meet each year. Thus I had to start casting a wider net, being seen by couples in all of Scandinavia and Europe, as well as the many Americans who travel to Europe each year to get married.
3. GETTING EMOTIONAL WHEN YOU RECEIVE CRITICISM.
As photographers, our work is a personal creation process and we get so attached to each and every image that it can be hard to seperate ourselves from what we create for a client. I used to get so angry/indignant/defensive whenever I received even the slightest bit of criticism or even a question from a client after delivering their images. I always responded right away, and with my gut reaction, often resulting in a less than constructive correspondance.
The more you get to know yourself, and the more you do to show who you are and what you do and tell your clients what to expect, the fewer misunderstandings and conflicts you will experience. These days, I usually only have one couple/client a year where things just go pearshaped and after a lot of soul searching I always discover it is a question of us being a bad match from the beginning. The rest of my clients are beyond happy with our collaboration and their images, and that makes me incredibly proud.
A few months ago, a couple of mine told me (after I had edited and delivered their images) that they dislike B&W photos. I always edit some in colour and some in B&W depending on what suits the specific image best, light and content wise. This mix of colour and B&W is also what I show on my blog. But somehow, this bride had assumed she would get all her images in colour. This was a very sweet couple and I had truly enjoyed working with them. It was just a misunderstanding. My first response then was to think that they should have known, or at least told me their preference during the session, before I starting editing the photos. Had I written back to her with that message, she would have felt bad and had an overall negative experience, feeling wrong, despite the shoot going really well. But I bit my tongue and waited a day to respond. By then and after a good night's sleep, I decided to re-edit the B&W photos in question (there were just 15 or so of them) and add them to her gallery in a colour version. It took me all of 20 minutes, and the client was super happy and left me a great review. We still keep in touch online.
I am in no way suggesting that you let people walk all over you. But sometimes it is wise to consider the effort needed to "correct" something, in relation to the outcome, nomatter whether the client is in the right or in the wrong