So, I was finally able to make it happen, a wedding photography workshop in Iceland with two good friends and talented photographers Jason Vinson and Bud Johnson! Click on the image above to get more details and see what we have planned. Basically, it’s 5 days in Iceland that will be the fun and adventurous workshop that I’ve had in mind for the past 3 years. The sad news is that we can only bring 8 photographers with us, so if this is something you’re interested in I wouldn’t hesitate to grab your spot. Food and transportation are covered, plus Leica will be providing free gear for anyone that wants to take a loaner with them to shoot with throughout their trip! Really looking forward to this one!
Prior to its launch this past Thursday, March 7th, I had the opportunity to test out the new Leica Q2 for a few weeks. Here is the first photoshoot that I brought it on, each photo below of the beautiful and talented Katt Wilkins was shot at 28mm f/1.7. This was the first of several shoots I shot with it, but also my favorite. Even though it was cold and raining, we shot for a little over an hour and I was able to get a real good feel for how the new Q handled and performed. The sun that you’ll see in some of the shots is simply the affect from using off-camera flash with MagMod grids and warming gels.
Once again I’ll be heading back to the city that never sleeps for the once a year wedding photography event known as WPPI representing Leica Camera USA. This will be the third consecutive year that I’ll be teaching a workshop followed by a complimentary dinner, but it sold out before I had a chance to really even promote it.
However, due to the workshop filling up so fast, I was asked to fly in a few days early and do a photowalk. Photowalks are a popular thing at WPPI and even though I’ve never attended one myself, I’ll basically be able to run it the way that I feel a photowalk should be run. WPPI will be providing models and we’ll be heading out onto the strip during the last couple hours of light. Just the way I like it.
I don’t know the total headcount yet for the photowalk, but this the first time that I’m promoting it so I would think that there are plenty of spots available. If you’re interested in joining me, you’ll have the opportunity to get your hands on one of the Leica camera/lens combos available free of charge to shoot with as well. Here is the link to register: https://photo.a2zinc.net/WPPI2019/Public/SessionDetails.aspx?FromPage=Speakers.aspx&SessionID=6988&nav=true&Role=U%27
“Hands down, my absolute favorite workshop to date. Jay and the Leica Akademie brought incredible professionalism, knowledge on a wide spectrum of relavent topics, and gracious generosity to the whole weekend. This wasn’t a “sit back and learn” environment but rather a hands on microscope look into my own business, marketing, gear that I use, lighting, posing, the works. There was ample opportunity for asking questions during real time, hands on learning. I was so impressed. Based on previous reviews, I had high expectations going in to the weekend of learning but Jay’s workshop in partnership with Leica has completely upped my business game leaps and bounds ahead of all that I could have hoped for. It was worth it on every single level!”
On January 11-13th, Bud Johnson and I hosted a Leica Akademie event in his hometown of Savannah, the 3rd of its kind that we’ve hosted together. This by far our biggest and most intensive, not only being three days long, but including a full wedding day walk through. Our most recent and last event that we hosted was in Lubec, ME so we wanted something a little different, and warmer so we went with Bud’s home town of Savannah, GA. The Maine workshop had been our most successful and most intense, until this one. We did our best to raise the bar on this one, and I definitely feel like we succeeded. Most of the photographers flew in from much colder areas from Philly to Oregon, so the warmer weather and bright sun was enough to get some fresh Vitamin D flowing through everyone.
I flew down a couple days early to get some scouting in along with making sure that all the little details were in place. Good friend and photographer, Eric Talerico, flew down early with me and we had got to do some good exploring around historical Savannah.
Day One - Engagement Shoot
Everything got started on Friday, January 11th, with a quick group intro followed by a mock engagement shoot in downtown Savannah. The group met up at the Pacci Italian Kitchen, where the workshop’s lectures and meals were held all 3 days. Everyone got the chance to hang out and talk for a little bit and get acquainted with any Leica gear they had taken out on loan to shoot with. It was cool to see the majority of the group testing out the Leica gear. Especially, the SL kits that were available since that’s the camera that I use for all my wedding/portrait work.
From there we headed down to River Street where I walked the group through how I typically shoot an engagement session. I covered everything from posing to creatively using natural light (like the shot below) to how I use layers and foreground elements. Everyone got to shoot as much as they wanted while taking full advantage of the beautiful Savannah scenery and Spanish moss. We shot until dark then headed back to Pacci.
Once back at Pacci, everyone got served one of the best meals we’ve ever served at a workshop. I walked everyone through my sales and consultation strategy followed by some Q&A. We wrapped the night up with a talk by Bud on his marketing approaches.
DAY TWO - Wedding Walk through
Day two was all about walking everyone through an entire wedding day. Rather than putting on an entire styled mock wedding we kept it low key so that we could focus more on technique and approach. Any time you get a lot of wedding vendors involved with models for a large scale styled shoot, it becomes very easy to be distracted. While that may have given the attendees more portfolio shots, this workshop wasn’t about that.
After meeting at the Pacci, we went straight to the hair salon where our bride and bridesmaid models were getting their hair and makeup done. From there we drove over to an AirBnB that we had rented for the day for actual bride prep. We spent a couple hours going over how Bud and I shoot bride prep photos. How we use the natural light to capture real moments in a creative yet documentary style.
After eating lunch and wrapping up the bride prep portion of the day, we spent the rest of the day at the Bethesda Academy. A 650-acre property with a historic little chapel that serves as a wedding venue among other things, to which we had full access to for the rest of the day. Besides the beautiful little chapel that was perfect for this workshop, the property itself is stunning with that rural Savannah feel, covered in trees drooping with Spanish moss for as far as the eye could see. Exactly what we wanted all the attendees to experience and get to use as a backdrop for portraits.
Both Bud and I covered everything from groom prep with the groom and groomsman models to bridal portraits and lighting family/bridal party portraits inside the chapel. From there we went out onto the property and spent the rest of the time working with the bride and groom. I basically went through my thought process, posing, directing, using natural light and off-camera flash techniques. Everything that I could fit in before the sun went down. Everyone had plenty of opportunities to shoot and there were some pretty impressive shots taken by all of the attendees.
After wrapping things up at Bethesda, we headed back to Pacci for dinner where I also did some image critiques and went over my post processing techniques. Afterwards, being that it was the last night in Savannah for most of the attendees, we went back down to the popular River Street and had some fun practicing some creative night portraits like the second photo below.
Day three was sadly the last day of the workshop, spent entirely at Pacci, cramming in as much material as possible. The day started off with an awesome breakfast served up by the amazing Pacci chefs while everyone got to talk about the day before. We covered a lot of Q&A regarding the day before, post wedding process with clients, album sales, and more post processing. We also had a guest speaker, Nicole Rene, come in and speak to everyone for a bit. Nicole is the owner of the Bridal Boutique Ivory and Beau, and also a wedding coordinator which is what she basically spoke about.
In the end, myself, Bud, and John (Leica) did our best to make sure that everyone had an amazing experience and walked away feeling that they had new techniques and knowledge that they could implement immediately.
It was an all around successful workshop that I personally would say was the best event that I’ve held under the Leica Akademie sponsorship. One of the reasons that I really love working alongside of Leica as a partner is that I have the ability to setup and run these workshops the same way that I would if I were running them on my own. This allows me to create and design each workshop in its own unique way, making each one different from the last. Creating a unique experience that would ultimately be one that I would be happy with if I were on the other side as an attendee. As I spoke to everyone on this last day and reading the reviews afterwards, overall I’m very happy with how things went and only wish that we didn’t have an extra day to keep things going.
Thank you to Leica for everything they did to help me host this event, especially John Kreidler who came along with all the Leica gear for everyone use. A big thank you to all the sponsors involved, each of which are listed below. Finally, thank you to all the attendees. This was one of the best groups that I’ve had the privilege of working with since I taught my first workshop two years ago. I look forward to following your work and watching you grow this year and going forward!
If you missed this one, we’ll be holding another in January of 2020. If you’re curious what’s up next… well, the announcement will be coming soon!
Gallery of attendee photos
“As a beginner at photography, I was a bit intimidated and didn't know what to expect. Jay quickly made me feel comfortable asking even the simplest questions. Jay encourages dialog and is very open about his process. It was a great learning experience and has given me the confidence to begin building my own style and brand.”
“I really learned a lot in the Wedding Photography industry. Especially while just starting out, this workshop really changed how I look at this industry and improved my grasp of creatively approaching these shots. I really enjoyed everyone I met and learned a lot about everyone else start in the wedding industry and the challenges they face. This all gave me invaluable insight into developing my own photography business and how best to approach the challenges I will face.”
THE NEW SITE
If you haven’t noticed, I finally spent some time and redesigned this site. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a while now but just didn’t have the time. With a lot of new projects in the works, it was time for a new look with easier navigation. We’ve added a few new staff members to Twisted Oaks studio which ultimately frees up time for me to put back into writing and all other projects outside of the wedding industry. The goal in the new year is to keep a consistent flow of educational articles, Leica related projects, post-processing tutorials, gear reviews, workshop announcements, and yes, finally the release of a Twisted Oaks preset system.
What exactly is branding? What does it mean to rebrand?
If there were one topic of discussion that I feel seems to confuse photographers and creatives more than anything else, it would have to be branding and what it actually means to re-brand. A good yet very basic and simple example would be to think about the McDonalds brand. If they were to rebrand they would not only change their logo, but also the food they serve, the way that they serve it, and more than likely not have a drive through anymore. Many photographers and creatives think of re-branding as a logo and website change, yet it would actually mean so much more than that.
I was able to get a good understanding of branding and the importance of knowing when it’s time to rebrand while working in the corporate world for 15 years. As a photographer, just a couple years into my first company, I re-branded. Just under four years ago, I created an entirely new company with a completely new look, with all new goals, new sales approach, and a completely revamped style of service that we would offer our clients. Yes, we had a new logo designed along with a brand new website which was built from scratch to not only be unique but to make it very easy to see what our new company and brand was all about. One of the most significant changes with the new brand was the switch from a digitally based wedding photography studio to a product based one. What does that mean? I’ll explain, keep reading.
Our first photography studio, Cass Imaging, was a jack of all trades type of studio that was based around charging a flat fee and providing digital images. With the new brand and new company name, Twisted Oaks Studio, we wanted to make it clear that we were primarily now a wedding photography studio. We changed the entire approach to working with our clients and focused on creating an all new experience for them. The biggest change had to do with the end product for our clients. Instead of just handing over digital images on a flash drive and an online gallery, we wanted to educate our clients on the importance of prints and most importantly a big beautiful wedding album. This was a scary move, mostly due to the fact that we would no longer include high-resolution files unless they received an album. So many of our previous wedding clients would ask us for high-res files, how would we get around this? Simple, I would educate them on why they didn’t need high-res files to post on social media. The only thing they would need them for would be prints larger than 8x10 or albums, and I made it very clear that Twisted Oaks offered better products than anything they can buy on their own. Yes, we feared that we would lose business because of this change, but once we made the transition over and it didn’t take very long to see how there was absolutely no pushback from new clients. In fact, the only feeling we were left with was regret. Regret that we hadn’t made this change sooner.
My ultimate goal with the Twisted Oaks brand that I built was to have recently engaged couples know that we were a studio based around providing a one of a kind experience and a wedding album at the end to tell their story, not just digital images to sit on a flash drive somewhere. I built a brand that made albums just as crucial as the creative and artistic photography that we wanted to be known for. In the end, there were three branding techniques that I focused on that just about took the sales out of album sales for us. Within the first two years of starting a completely brand new company, we sold over 80 albums. Before the rebrand, we sold 3.
As most of you know that follow my work, Twisted Oaks Studio is a multi-photographer studio. Not only did we rebrand to a product based wedding photography studio, but we also had much bigger plans on how we wanted to grow. Building a large studio like Twisted Oaks isn’t for everyone but adding associate photographers along with other admin employees was the direction that we wanted to go. Two years into starting our first photography company and basically taking everything from family shoots to headshots, wedding photography quickly took over. We found ourselves faced with a tough decision. We were both still working full-time jobs, and Sandi was pregnant with our son, so we knew we needed to start preparing for the future if we wanted to make this a real career. Less than three years in and a ton of decision making mixed with business coaching, we made the decision to start a brand new studio from scratch. This time with a full game plan of what we wanted to do. We knew where we wanted the business to go, the brand we wanted to build and most importantly the steps we planned on taking to become one of the most successful and popular multi-photographer studios on the East Coast.
These were our main goals when we decided to re-brand. Most importantly, these were ultimately what became the foundation of what the Twisted Oaks brand was built on.
- No longer be known as a “Jack of all trades” studio, focus strictly on wedding photography.
- Convert over to a product based company
- Have album sales become a large part of our income
- Slowly build our two photographers (husband and wife team) into a successful multi-photographer studio
- Create an entirely new experience for our clients, something that we would need to separate ourselves from the other multi-photographer studios in the area.
THE FIRST FEW YEARS
Before Twisted Oaks Studio, we didn’t have a reliable brand built. It was difficult for potential clients to know exactly who we were or what we were all about. Since we were keeping busy and continuing to grow, it was easy for us to see how a lot of other photographers can fall into this trap. Thinking that the brand they built is working because they are seeing continued growth within the first few years. Luckily for us, we realized that if we wanted to really make a successful career out of photography, we needed to make some significant changes. Looking back on our first studio, just three years ago, it was the perfect test run for us to learn from our mistakes and ultimately give us the ability to see what we needed to change in order to start a new successful studio from the ground up that would have a game plan for years to come.
We started putting together a game plan long before making the full transition over to Twisted Oaks and to be honest, I could teach an entire three-day workshop on that process alone. We implemented an entirely new marketing strategy, pricing structure, consultation process, sales techniques, and even had mentors to help coach us along the way. All of which played a role in building a new brand, the one that you see today as Twisted Oaks. That was our primary focus, and it’s what has been the most crucial factor in the success that we’ve seen in such a short period. Within a year of making the transition, Twisted Oaks had become the brand that we had envisioned.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD BRAND
Branding can often be the most confusing and misunderstood aspect of being a business owner, especially in the creative industry. Branding is so much more than just a logo and a website re-design. It’s often confused with the style that you have as a photographer. Whether it be your shooting style, editing style, or the look of your website. The more confusing part is that branding and style actually go hand in hand but are also two very different things.
Before starting Twisted Oaks Studio, we had a unique editing style that made it easy for others to distinguish our work from others. We hired someone to help us take that editing style, the overall look, and style of what we wanted our new studio to look like and create a new logo and website. Within a few weeks, we had a whole new look, a particular color palette to our website that matched our editing style, and a design that made it extremely easy and obvious for potential clients to know what the Twisted Oaks brand was all about. To give you an idea of what went into creating the new brand, here are a handful of things that we focused on:
What the studio’s mission is all about
Our photography focus (primarily a wedding based studio)
How we want to make our client’s feel
What experience we offer to our clients
The price in relation to value
What makes us unique
Consistency in our editing style
The style of our photography
The style in which we shoot
The products that we offer and having them match the brand style
BRANDING & ALBUM SALES
Besides the addition of the associate program, the biggest goal for us was to fully convert over to a product based studio. We basically avoided album sales the entire first year that we shot weddings, and it honestly wasn’t tough to do since none of our clients even wanted them. We didn’t even realize we were doing it, but we were attracting clients that had no interest in an album or wall art by advertising ourselves as a fully digital studio that handed over a flash drive and online gallery as a final product. We had ourselves convinced that clients no longer wanted albums. They apparently only wanted high-res digital files, and it was a waste of time trying to sell them a wedding album. We also had ourselves convinced before the re-brand that if we did take away high-res files and create a brand built around albums that no one would hire us. They would go with our competition that offered what we used to. Well, long story short, we were wrong. Very wrong. If you’re in the mood for tacos, you aren’t going to McDonald's. If Taco Bell started offering hamburgers and french fries but only had it on their menu for walk-in customers to see. After months of no one purchasing anything but tacos, it would be easy for them to say that no one likes hamburgers and french fries. Meanwhile, across the street, McDonald's is bumping with the business since that is what they are known for. Not the best analogy, but I’m writing this from a hotel room in San Diego at 1am, and I’m starving. Hopefully, you get my point.
3 BRANDING TECHNIQUES
SHOW THEM OFF - MARKET THE HELL OUT OF THEM
I wanted to make it known to anyone who followed our work or scrolled through our website and social media that albums are a big part of who we are. I wanted to make it so that any potential clients that did their research would see how unique our albums are, how well they fit the brand, and how the majority of other clients are excited to receive their albums once they arrive. Basically, my goal was to make it so I never even had to mention the word albums during initial client consultations, but instead, they ask me about them. For clients that came into the studio for their meetings, they would be surrounded by albums to the point that they would find it difficult to leave without wanting one
The biggest mistake that I see photographers make is not marketing their albums or showing them off as much as possible. It’s not only difficult to find examples of them on their websites, but they don’t post photos of them on social media. Not just photos of the albums themselves, but also photos showing off the excitement of clients getting to see their album for the first time. Ever since I rebranded and made albums a primary focus, showing them off everywhere that we possibly could ultimately created an interest in them for not only new potential clients but past clients as well.
We went from selling a total of 3 albums to 30 in the first year as Twisted Oaks. In 2018, we will have sold more than double that with a good number of clients still in the building process. Today, 9 out of 10 clients request an album in their wedding package rather than waiting until afterwards.
GIVE THEM BRAGGING RIGHTS
You want your clients to be excited to not only receive their album but start the designing process. We make it, so they play a big part in the designing process and offer them the opportunity to come into the studio to work with us on it in person. We have not only photographed but shot video of clients getting to see their first album design draft as well as receiving their album. These experiences are quite emotional, and anyone that sees them will find it difficult to not experience the same thing for themselves. We have the majority of the albums shipped to the studio first so that we can photograph them and show them off on social media, as well as our website. It can quickly and easily create the desire to get their album as soon as they can and show it off. Most have custom designed covers, and with the images produced by our studio’s photographers, the albums are quite impressive and customized perfectly to fit our brand. We use Vision Art Albums and couldn’t recommend them more. I reached out to 6 album companies and ordered samples, not only was Vision Art one of the most impressive when it came to quality, they were the most customizable.
HAVE CLIENTS HELP
We offer our clients a gift package for taking photos of their albums and posting them on their own social media pages. Sure, it’s always great to see your clients sharing their pictures on their social media platforms. Imagine having your clients showing off their wedding photos along with the album and the printed photos inside. This not only creates an interest in your photography to the friends and family of your clients, but it also helps to make it known just how impressive the final product looks and how happy they are with it. Create an incentive to have your clients help promote your work and your brand. Showing off the album and the photos inside not only promotes your work but also what your brand is all about.
I hope this helps, and most of all I hope it makes sense. It’s difficult for me at times to put such a detailed and planned out branding plan into words when it’s much easier explained in person. It’s because of the successes I’ve seen as a studio owner and the amount of growth in such a short period of time that I started teaching workshops rather than trying to explain things in a short article like this. This was a topic that I discussed in even further detail at my Savannah Workshop. In 2019, I have no doubts that we will sell over 100 albums, with 75% or more of those coming with purchased upgrades. If you are struggling with album sales, there’s nothing I can suggest more than taking the sales part out of it. If you’re good at sales, having the proper branding in place will only help make your life easier. If you aren’t, maybe rebranding is something to consider so that albums are a much bigger part of who you are as a company. Albums will start to sell themselves and you’ll never have to give a sales pitch about how good your albums are again.