Author Archives: Lisa Devlin

Pick Yourself Up and Try Again

We’ve all been in situations when something work-related just hasn’t gone our way. And if it’s something you feel you have worked super hard for then it’s even worse. Gutting even. Not everything we plan for or aim towards always comes off, so how can you cope with a professional disappointment without taking it out on your loved ones or hitting the gin?

I have all kinds of mini-disappointments in my working life. From not being booked by an awesome sounding couple, to pressing publish on a blog post to a sea of silence. In general however, life is good. I work hard and most times I have happy news. All kinds of opportunities come my way and I like to think I grab them all by the short & curlies and make the best of them. I love my clients and I get to work with great photographers at Photography Farm. Plus when all the hard work from the workshop is done, we get to kick back and make use of the rockstar facilities – it’s really pretty great. I even recently went to New York because I was invited to speak for the B&H Event Space and The Blogcademy. Amazing. In between the two events we hung out and generally had a blast. Recently however, I faced a big career disappointment.

A while back I was told that I was in line for a huge worldwide industry award. I had been nominated by some pretty high up people, whose radar I had no idea I was even on. The first thing I did was call Kat to scream my news down the phone as I knew she would understand what a big deal it was. It was super early in the morning but hey… that’s what friends are for. I felt like I had won an Oscar. However when I looked into the small print for the award, it turned out I couldn’t qualify. I was sooooo totally gutted. I felt like I had been invited to Buckingham Palace thinking I was getting an OBE only to be ushered in the servant’s entrance and told I had to polish the silver.

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Great Expectations

Today I want to tackle the tricky issue of managing client expectation in the wedding industry. Sooner or later no matter who you are or what level you are at, the chances are that you will encounter some sort of complaint or confrontation in your business. We work with people who are often planning the biggest experience of their lives and there can be a lot of pressure all round. A wedding can be a bit like all your Christmases at once – if your family all get on then brilliant, but a wedding can often highlight any issues too. Then there are all the money concerns connected with weddings. Good for you if you have a bottomless pit of cash to splash, but for many couples a wedding can be a huge financial strain on them or their immediate families. Add to that some of the other pressure that couples can put on themselves… Like making their day the stand out amongst their circle of friends, getting super carried away with how their wedding is going to look, or being obsessed with making their wedding ‘blogworthy’.

I have recently noticed a slight shift in the industry that I am not entirely sure is a completely good thing. I used to have to pitch to my couples about having their weddings featured on a blog or in a magazine, as lets face it, having that press is good for me and all their suppliers to promote our businesses for free. In the last year however, I have started to notice that I am often asked by couples about submitting to blogs even before I have shot their wedding. Of course I love to photograph creative weddings, I love to see my work featured and yes I may even be borderline OCD about details, but recently I have actually started encountering couples that would be devastated if their wedding didn’t get featured. It’s as if it’s the validation that the wedding was a success. This can really lead to a lot of additional pressure all round – both for me and my clients.

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Feel the Fear

When I first moved to London, my flatmate at the time had a book called Feel the Fear but do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Not really being one for self help books, I never got round to reading it but as it hung around the lounge, the title really spoke to me and it’s kinda hung around in my mind ever since. At the time I had pulled out of doing a degree in fashion and textiles after it had dawned on me that I wasn’t anywhere near as obsessed with fashion as my fellow foundation students who had got onto the same degree. They were going to college in Victorian Underwear and thick black tights while I was still channelling Neneh Cherry in a purple satin bomber jacket with a spiral perm (hey, it was twenty years ago!)

Although I had always done photography I was flummoxed by the sums… F-stop numbers going one way, shutter speed numbers go the other way… Who invented this stuff? Why wasn’t it just 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C? So I decided to try fashion styling as that was just putting clothes together for photo shoots, not designing them but it was still photography related. So how could I get work experience at that? I was obsessed with reading The Face magazine so I started there… I picked out my favourite shoots and the same couple of stylists’ names kept cropping up so I found out their phone numbers and got in touch. Our flat was in Chelsea but I am no trust fund babe – we were signing on and most weeks ran out of money to top up the key meter for the electricity. I was aware that I needed these people way more than they needed me and that is a vulnerable position to be in. It would have been easy to psyche myself out of making those phone calls, I was totally terrified but eventually I did and a stylist called Camilla Nickerson who sounded just lovely said that actually her assistant had pulled out of a shoot the following Friday and I could come along to help out.

I arrived at the studio after a sleepless night to a buzz of activity but everyone seemed very sweet. I got stuck in unwrapping the amazing clothes by Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. Turned out that all the people at the shoot were friends – the make up artist was mates with the stylist, and the photographer’s girlfriend was the model along with her brother. Her name was Kate Moss and it was one of the first times she had been in a proper studio too. She was only a couple of years younger than me. I thought she looked like a beautiful alien and when she stepped on set she was mesmerising. As the shoot unfolded I realised that I had no clue what the stylist was doing. In this room full of stunning clothes, one of the shots turned out to be just Kate under a black satin sheet with nothing on but a narrow leather thong around her neck… Six months later me and every girl in London wouldn’t leave the house without the same necklace on. It quickly dawned on me that day that I was no fashion stylist but I carefully watched the photographer Mario Sorrenti and he didn’t seem to be doing anything that I couldn’t grasp. He was using the daylight and bouncing it round with poly boards and shooting on 35mm. Maybe this photography lark wasn’t so technical after all?

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Another Level

I often get asked how can someone take their wedding photography business to the next level? Today I am going to give you some examples of things I did that worked for me, and offer some pointers for the direction you could go in. These are from my perspective on the industry. Sadly I’m not going to give you a magic formula to success but can start by saying that sheer hard graft plays a large part.

What makes me qualified to talk about this? Well a few years ago I was maybe a lot like you. I was trundling along nicely and year on year the bookings came in. Yes, I was probably getting a little complacent…. If things were looking quiet I would take out an ad somewhere or submit to a magazine and boom, the phone was ringing again. But then things really slooooooowed down. My home life had been super busy… Hello two small blondes who are the best thing I have ever done but also the most demanding. Looking back I have no idea how I juggled things or got myself to any weddings at all but I did keep working. Then when the Winter kicked in and I had time to review the business, I was a little bit concerned that the next year’s diary wasn’t very booked up and being completely honest I wasn’t that excited about many of the weddings.

Make a Plan and Make Connections

It was definitely time for a change so I created an action plan (okay I wallowed about feeling sorry for myself first) but with the new year I felt a renewed energy and decided if nobody was going to wave a magic wand for me then I would have to fix things for myself. I started with a bit of customer research. I spoke to the clients that I already had to discover more about where they were getting their inspiration and their suppliers for their weddings. This is how I first heard of Rock n Roll Bride. I got in touch with Kat and though I totally cringe now reading back my initial email, it does show that the best approach is always a personal one. I’m not saying call someone up and ask to meet up and be BFFs forever… That is just creepy… but neither should you send an impersonal contact. Talk a bit about yourself and showcase some of your best work. Ideally what you need to do is form associations with people in your industry who are more powerful than you. Getting featured on Rock n Roll Bride lead to my business turning around and I was back on track getting the right clients for me.

At the time I didn’t know this but forming alliances with your peers is a sound business strategy and now I also believe it works the other way. If you believe in someone else’s talent who is newer than you that is also a good connection. If they have drive and ambition then they are only heading in a forward direction which is where you also want to be going. I used to know very few other photographers and now I know lots, and all of them slightly different in their experience, style and outlook. If I can’t shoot a wedding, I will always try to direct the couple to another photographer that I think they would like, and I even share a google calendar with some of them which I can check to see who’s free on a particular date. This of course comes back on me as well and I also receive some great referrals this way. But more than that, by connecting with lots of others doing the same thing as me but at differing levels, I get a bigger view of the industry in general.

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Stop Bartering Me!

You and your product are awesome. You feel you have set a fair price for what you offer and in the words of our Cheryl “You’re Worth It” Then what’s with all the potential clients wanting to barter with you? It can be utterly soul destroying to be repeatedly asked to lower your rates because somebody else up the road is doing the same thing as you for less.

There are some vendors who love to haggle over prices and don’t ever expect anyone to pay their full rates. If this is you then I wish you well but most of us set a price that we actually want to achieve and feel disheartened when asked to take something off. Interestingly, the most haggling happens at the lower and upper ends of the market. The couple with around £1800 or less to spend on photography often feel that because this end of the market is so overly saturated that they have the power… and quite frankly they do. They have a huge amount of choice and there any many wedding photographers out there willing to compete on price to get the work. If you are somewhere around this price bracket, and find yourself repeatedly asked to take off 10-20% as ‘that is all they have budgeted for photography’ you will quite often get to the wedding and find that the bride is in a £3000 dress or they have a Choccywoccydoodah cake that cost more than you. What that couple actually meant when they said they were on a budget is that they didn’t value your services above some of the other things at their wedding. Sadly these are usually the things that are only there for the day.

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Why You Should Offer an Album

As a wedding photographer, are you including an album with every package that you offer clients? I didn’t used to but I have recently changed this so that I do.

It’s been a huge few years for wedding photography. The arrival of affordable digital SLRs have of course impacted massively on how many people now offer their services as wedding photographers. It feels like a buyers market a lot of the time as anyone looking to book a wedding photographer in the UK has a huge amount of us to choose from. Potential clients are often putting their demands in at the initial enquiry stage instead of waiting to see what you offer.  As an extreme example, I had this in my inbox a while back…

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you regarding a wedding taking place on XX of XXXXXX 2012.

If you are available for this date, I have a bride and groom looking for a photographer to capture a full day. They are, however, on an extremely tight budget.  The absolute maximum they may be able to stretch to, would be £400 for the total costings. The wedding is in XXXX Church with the reception to follow, down the road. It was originally planned that a friend would be photographing the events of the day, but it has recently come to light that this may not now be possible.

Ideally they are looking for the following:
2 Photographers
Coverage from preparation to first dance
Full copyright of all pictures
An Album

Needless to say I responded with ‘Dear Sir/Madam, thanks for your truly delightful email but I am busy for that day, in fact that whole year.’ I have also had lots of enquiries that state “We don’t need an album as we will be doing our own”. Of course if you are including the high resolution files in their package then they are very welcome to. But check up on those clients a year or even two down the line and see if they ever made that album. Or go back through your weddings and look at who was definitely going to order an album from you and see if they ever did. In the planning stages of a wedding, a few hundred pounds on an album to proudly display your wedding day can seem perfectly reasonable in the grand scheme of things. However after the wedding, when maybe the washing machine breaks down or they start to think about having a family, that chunk of money on a wedding album can now seem like quite a lot to find. Two thirds of couples overspend significantly on their wedding budget and often take quite some time to pay it all off. As photographers you will find that more often than not you will be missing the window of opportunity on providing a wedding album.

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