Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 11

Wedding photographer for essex and suffolk.
A “happy couple” pose for their wedding photos in Sydney Harbour.

I’m back again after an absence of over a month and I’m going to talk about my holiday in Australia. Now why on earth would you want to read about that and how is it relevant to running a photography business?

Well perhaps I should give it the title “Work / Life balance. Do you have one?” Stick with me and all will become clear. I’m no lifestyle coach but I hope relaying some of my personal experiences may give you something to think about and help you get the balance that’s right for you.


So my wife and I set off on what will probably be a once in a lifetime trip to Australia. We visited Melbourne ( the see relatives ), Sydney ( terrific city ), Uluru ( amazing big red rock! ) and Port Douglas ( to snorkel over the Great Barrier Reef, highly recommended ).

We were just driving into Heathrow Airport at the start of our trip when my phone rings. A new enquiry for a wedding later this year. I explained where I was and asked the potential client to submit a contact form from my website. I informed her I was available on her day and would get back to her on my return to the UK. She submitted the form and we have now arranged to meet for a chat.

We arrived in Melbourne. An email pinged up on my iPad enquiring about a date for next year. I formulated a reply and sent it. On checking my “sent” folder, there is no trace of my reply. It sometimes takes a day of two to show in the “sent” folder so I decided I would check it sent OK later on.

Now one thing that really surprised me about Australia is how difficult it was to get a reliable wi-fi signal. I kid you not. I don’t know if we were just unlucky and the places we stayed at were unusual in that respect, but it was like being in a third world country! On the odd occasions when we did get a signal, we had to pay extra for it in hotels. The best place for free wi-fi was the public libraries, if you can find one.

A couple of days later, we got a signal. I checked the emails. Another new enquiry to which I sent a reply. On checking my “sent” folder neither the reply to this new enquiry nor the one I sent a couple of days earlier were showing. What’s going on! I also found the enquiry form I have received a couple of days earlier was completely missing from my “in” box. Emails were simply disappearing from my email account!!!

Now I’m starting to get stressed. Not getting a booking because the potential clients prefer another supplier is one thing. Not getting a booking because they think I’m unreliable and don’t respond to emails (when in actual fact, I have), well that’s another. The last thing I want is a reputation for being unreliable.

Naturally I had set up an “auto reply” on my system informing clients of my absence and letting them know I would reply when I was able, but I was sending replies and through no fault of my own, I had no idea whether the potential clients were receiving them or not.

Couple of days later, another enquiry. Another reply sent. More emails vanishing from my email account. The stress levels are going up!

Now here’s the thing. I’m on my holiday. In the past when I was “employed”, I would have considered being called upon during my period of leave to be a very unreasonable intrusion on my personal life.

Yet here I was, on the holiday of a lifetime feeling stressed out and allowing “work” to ruin it. I would not have accepted such an intrusion lightly when “employed”, so why was I allowing it to happen when “self-employed”.


Those of us that are self-employed realise just how hard we have to work to make our business successful and earn a living. Sometimes we will go to extremes to ensure our clients are happy with the service we have provided and that we maintain our good reputation.

Then I thought to myself, hang on a minute. I left my previous job after over 30 years on my GP’s advice because the stress was affecting my health. I now consider myself lucky to be doing a job I love but, based on my previous experiences, I really should know better than to allow work to cause me so much stress during my holiday.

I have come to the conclusion that, whilst we need to provide a reliable and professional service to our clients in order to run a successful business, there are times when our clients need to understand that we are only human and when we are on holiday, we are on holiday. I can’t help but think it’s really important to have a good balance between our work ethic and the need for “down time”.

I decided to put the iPad away ( the auto reply will inform people that I will reply when I am able ), enjoy my holiday and ignore my emails until I returned from Australia. I believe most reasonable people will understand that we all need a break from work sometimes in order to maintain our mental and physical health. It’s no good turning up to their wedding feeling tired and in need of a break! Both our health and their photos will suffer if we do.

Let’s face it, none of our clients will attend our funeral if we work ourselves into an early grave and we will soon go out of business if our photos aren’t up to the required standard.

Now we’re all different. Some of us appear to enjoy stress and have a high tolerance level for it. For others, the level of stress we can deal with is much lower. My advice would be to ensure you are aware of your own tolerance for stress and don’t exceed it.

Personally, I have suffered very high levels of stress in the past and know from bitter experience just how ill prolonged periods of high stress levels can make you, so I will avoid it whenever possible.

Having said that, I don’t think you could ever avoid stress completely and there is an argument that some stress is actually necessary to maintain a healthy balanced life.

I know it can be easier said than done sometimes, especially when your job is also your passion, but I think we should all build “breaks” into our working life and stick to them. We also need to be aware of stress and the harm it can do and when things start to get too much, take action. It is my belief that you will be a better person and run a better business as a result to the benefit of both yourself and your clients.

After all, surely we should be “working so that we can live”, not “living so that we can work”.

wedding photographer for essex and suffolk
A happy couple having their photos taken on the Harbour front. Photographed from Sydney Harbour Bridge.

UPDATE:

So, remember the enquiries I was getting stressed out about during my holiday? Want to know the outcome?

I had two enquiries immediately before flying out to Australia who I was able to speak to on the phone, both of which have decided to book me. That leaves the two enquiries I received whilst actually in Australia.

I had emailed both of them twice, the second email explaining my difficulties and asking if they would be kind enough to confirm receipt of my replies. On my arrival back in the UK I hadn’t heard anything from either of them, so I sent them both one further reply from my office again asking if they would be kind enough to confirm receipt just so I was satisfied they had heard from me and didn’t think I had ignored them.

I can be almost 100% certain those replies must have reached them, but guess what. Neither of them had the good manners to let me know. I heard nothing from them.

The lesson. To me this just helps confirm what I have said before. When you are on your holiday, YOU ARE ON HOLIDAY. Stressing about your business doesn’t do you any good whatsoever and most of you clients won’t appreciate it.


That brings to an end my little series of articles about starting a photography business in the real world. I hope you have found it useful and enjoyed reading it. My intention at the outset was to highlight the things I did wrong  when I started out so that you don’t make the same mistakes.

If you would like to read a blog that has a more “scientific” approach towards starting a business, I recommend you read this blog on the ShootDotEdit website.

Back to part 1

Back to part 10

 

Photography as a business – dream vs reality part 10

Wedding Photography at Milsoms Kesgrave Hall near Ipswich, Suffolk.
The Groom checks his “To Do” list before making his way to the church.

Firstly a very Happy New Year to you all. Here in part 10 I will offer some practical advice, based on real life experience, of how to deal with “Uncle Bob”.

This will be the last blog for several weeks as I’m off doing a bit of “globe trotting”, but I will return!

So, just how do we deal with “Uncle Bob”?

Firstly I guess, I need to answer the question, who is “Uncle Bob”? It is a term of endearment for those family members / guests found at most weddings who want to be “Wedding Photographers” for the day. They are often keen amateur photographers and I’m convinced they set themselves the goal of taking better photos of the wedding than we professionals.

I really don’t think we need to “fear” them stealing our ideas or photographing our poses, as some professional photographers I have spoken to would have you believe. One “Uncle Bob” I met put it perfectly and I quote “I’ve been to several family weddings and I tend to get 3 or 4 good images that I’m really happy with. I have no idea how you guys get 3 or 4 HUNDRED images at one wedding and I admire that”. I believe that’s how most “Uncle Bobs” feel.

I think most of them have respect for what we do and might want to learn a thing or two from us. Get a few small tips from us on how to improve their own photography.

I have heard other pros say they are a real nuisance. That they stand right in front of you at key moments, shoot over your shoulder and really get in the way.

Well yes, that does sometimes happen but I have found that almost all respond well to being given some polite advice and instruction to make sure they don’t get in your way.

Occasionally you might have to be a bit more assertive but remember, you are at a wedding. You don’t want to “cause a scene” or go upsetting guests and they are perfectly entitled to take photos if they want to.


I have included a clause relating to this issue in my terms and conditions, which I have reproduced below:

 

1. Exclusive Photographer. The Photographer shall be the exclusive photographer retained by the Client for the purpose of photographing the wedding. Family and friends of the Client shall be permitted to photograph the wedding as long as they shall not interfere with the Photographer’s duties and do not photograph poses arranged by the Photographer.

 

In practice, I have never had to fall back on this. I have found that issues can be prevented just by talking to people. Making them aware of what you would like them to do and why you would like them to do it.


Getting people to do what you want them to is down to your own interpersonal skills. There will always be the very occasional one that is, how shall I say this, really difficult to deal with, but if you are having problems on a regular basis perhaps you should be taking a good look at yourself.

I was once given a very good bit of advice by a famous photographer. He said, “if you want to be a better photographer of people, first concentrate on becoming a better person”. I think that is sound advice.

Personally I think you’re getting off to a bad start if you approach the issue with the view that they are all just a nuisance. You need to realise that some of them are capable of taking some really good images and in my experience, few of them actually make a “nuisance” of themselves.

You also must not presume that all “Uncle Bobs” are just keen amateurs. I have been a guest at weddings myself ( I would rather be a guest at a family wedding and enjoy the day ) and will bring one camera with me, just in case, but I don’t consider myself to be an “Uncle Bob”.

I have said it earlier, but I think it’s worth repeating. I have found almost all guests looking to take photos and are getting in your way, respond well to being given some polite advice. Occasionally you have to be quite assertive but most will listen, especially if you warn them that they will incur the wrath of the couples and their parents if the photos don’t come out well!!

The worst I have come across was one chap who literally stood right behind me during the “confetti” shot. I asked him to keep to one side as I would be walking backwards. He ignored me and I stepped back onto his feet and almost fell over him.

He then followed me when I took the couple away for their “couple” photos. The Bride herself solved the problem. She advised him that his presence was not welcome, pointing out the incident with the confetti shot, and he skulked off and kept out of the way.

If you do come across someone who is very rude and simply will not listen to your advice, take pictures anyway. You can then show the couple exactly who prevented you from getting the photos they wanted!


Another option is to suggest to the couple early in the planning stage that they have an “unplugged” wedding. It’s their day and therefore their choice, but there’s no harm in mentioning it to them. It certainly prevents a “forest” of mobile phones and tablets appearing out of nowhere when the Bride walks up the aisle.

I have had so many take up this idea that I have a large sign they can borrow to put on display. It reads

UNPLUGGED CEREMONY“. We invite you to be fully present during our ceremony. Kindly turn off all your devices and enjoy this moment with us. THANK YOU.

There are various alternative wordings around such as “enjoy our ceremony through your eyes, not your electronic device”, but as long as it gets the message across, it’s up to the couple exactly what wording works for them.


I believe in a little bit of forward planning. I think it’s a good idea to ask the Bride and Groom during your last consultation with them before their wedding day, whether they have any family members likely to “take a keen interest” in what is going on with the photography. Usually I can then formulate a plan of how the “Uncle Bobs” are best handled with the Bride and Groom’s approval.

It might be best, if circumstances allow and it seems appropriate, to actually involve the guests concerned. Make them feel a part of it ( but don’t get them “working under your direction” as you may fall foul of you insurance T’s & C’s if things go wrong ).

I have been known to bring keen Mums or Dads with me when doing the photos of the couple on their own. Both the couples and the parents really appreciated it and I think in their eyes this gesture meant I could do no wrong!

I took the photos of the couple that I wanted to take while they watched. Once I had finished, I let them take their photos. They might have been photographing my poses but, because of different camera settings and the way they composed their images, they looked very different to mine. Remember, we have nothing to fear!!

That’s it for now. Hopefully I will be back blogging again when I return from my travels. Until then, enjoy your work. After all, it’s still the best job in the world!!

Wedding Photography for Suffolk and Essex
The Groom waits patiently for the appointed hour.

Part 11

Back to part 9