12/04/2013Sneak Preview – A Brand to Value
Oh hello, I’m back. I’ve been gone for a bit for reasons, and I promise to tell you about all of them as soon as I can, but in the meantime, remember how I mentioned that there were things going on in the background for me? This little enormous project – a full visual rebrand (designed by friend and amazing creative Jennifer Olmstead), an updated website with amazing new content, and a fresh new focus for Kelly Sauer Ltd. Co. – is one of the things, and I’m SOOOOOOO excited to share this sneak peek with you, even if it is only a tiny preview. This is not my final logo, but when this came through on my logo comps from Jen yesterday, SO. MUCH. fell into place for me. I have been smiling and giddy and absolutely over the moon with the dreaming.
I held out on hiring a designer for years because I was being generally stubborn about wanting things *my* way and paying somebody money to do what I could already do myself.
I, quite honestly, stumbled into my business, and for a long time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to take it the design route or the photography route. I didn’t know if I wanted to shoot commercially, or if I wanted to shoot everything and the kitchen sink or just weddings or the fine art that just wakes me up in the morning. I wanted to do everything.
As a new business owner, it’s hard to know where to begin when you are marketing yourself and your services – you have this idea of who you are, but there is a huge gap sometimes between your experience and your dream. I needed time to putter, and time to decide where I was going, and time to learn my limitations and my workflow. As the business strengthened and my work grew to the level I’d wanted it at the beginning, we realized that we needed to invest in a designer to make the front end of Kelly Sauer Ltd. Co. as strong as the back end.
I don’t know about you (many of whom have suffered patiently through my metamorphosis and loved me anyway!), but I can’t WAIT to see the end result.
I wish I had done it sooner. I wish I had been able to let go of my need to control every aspect of my brand, because there are some things I’m just not as good at as other people, ability be hanged. I wish I had invested much sooner in someone who could take the “feel” of me and my work and make sense out of it all in a coherent design.
I do think my constant redesigns have damaged my brand. I have owned that, because I knew I was growing, and it was MY brand and MY choice. But I stopped marketing outside of my blog and some publications this year because I wasn’t ready to be a full blown business to the whole world yet. I knew there was more to me than I had presented before, and I needed to learn what it was before I really pushed my name out there.
But now I’m ready to stick with something. For a good, long time. And that, I think, is what excites me the most about this process, because the value I’m placing on myself, my work, and the design surrounding my work is very, very high. I want the design to be something that will last because I want my work to be something that will last.
My photography isn’t just something that anybody with a nice camera can do. It is passion and personal and memories and so thoroughly its own thing that I love to give to my clients. It’s something of a forever thing, pulling eternity out of the moments, and I’m officially all in. I’ve been off the fence for a while. I hope you’ll bear with me while I prove it.
If you’re a photographer plugging away with your visual branding on your own, I absolutely recommend hiring yourself a real designer, someone who knows a LOT about branding, someone who can differentiate their design for a variety of clients.
This process has given me the chance to react to my visuals the same way I react behind the camera – instead of putting all my mind into “getting it right,” I’ve been able to respond emotionally and uncover exactly what feels right to me. After three years of struggle to make it WORK on my own, that feeling is worth every penny I’m paying, and then some.
11/21/2013Grumpy: A Conversation about Growth
I have a friend who absolutely believes in me and in my work, and she stubbornly refuses to let me lock myself down to “industry-standard.” (Everybody needs a friend like this in their life, someone who sees through what you’re doing to who you really are.) She is both the most frustrating and the most wonderful friend I have when it comes to my business, because she is HONEST with me about her perspective. She gives me something to wrestle against besides the wedding industry and the marketing and publication issues. Recently, she practically dared me out of my “safe” zone by challenging me to show more of my work and less of what “publications” want to see.
And to be perfectly honest, I’ve been grumping her direction for a week or so, muttering about bandwidth and editing my work and the best of the best, while sorting out her words about my direction. But after a crazy, crazy year that started in January and didn’t stop until just a couple of weeks ago, I’ve suddenly found myself with a lot more time (and a lot more creative block) on my hands than I know what to do with.
So I opened up my Reader yesterday and got in touch with many of my old blog friends, effectively tapping into something that has been missing for a long time in my world – the dare to be what I dream I can be. Blogging for me has never been just about me or just about my photography or just about my business. It has been about building relationships and processing my life and just generally being a person in the world, connecting with other people in the world. I just wanted to do it prettily, which is, in many senses, the reason I began taking pictures in the first place.
I’ve been following rules all year – mine, the industry’s, my clients’ – and I think it was a God thing that I ran across several different things about art that challenged me right out of the “everybody’s doing” box. I realized that I’ve been competing against hundreds of photographers who are shooting the same thing and seeing the same thing, and I’ve been wanting to see what they see, so I’m trying to make what I see look just like what they see, only better.
Guess what? THAT. DOESN’T. WORK.
Do you know, I like my work from two years ago better than I like my work this year? Sure, I got some amazing opportunities this year, but did I have the LIFE to shoot that I’ve had in the past? Or rather, did I SEE the life that I saw two years ago? If I’m honest, I have to say no, I didn’t see it. I stopped looking. And as the understanding dawns on me that I’ve locked myself into something that isn’t me, I can feel myself backpedaling fast out of the industry that has begun to invite me in, waving my hands in front of me as I smile politely and race for the door.
I have felt so empty since all my work wrapped up this year. I know I want more, but I haven’t known HOW I want more, or WHY I want more, or WHAT more I want. I shot the same photos all year, and though consistency is a good thing for what I do, I absolutely hate feeling blocked. I hate feeling that I am doing what everybody does (and why oh why am I still doing it or even NEEDED if everybody is doing?!), hate the sense that the thing that differentiates me or any other photographer from the other photographers is the colors or the mediums we use.
I’m not dumb enough to believe that my equipment and my post-processing makes me worth hiring. It is my heart and my eye and the way that I see that got me this far. It is my tendency to get distracted by the little things and make a big deal out of them, my sense of the overall story within the smallest elements. I think that is why I love shooting at the sea. It is always the same, but it is never the same. It teaches me to look for the nuances, to FEEL what I am photographing, instead of just pointing the camera and pressing the shutter button.
As I am finally going through my first official branding process with a real designer, I have found that I *do* know my truest voice, and the stories I want to tell and feel. I know that some of my best work was done long before this year, and that to get back to doing that best work, I am going to have to deconstruct my rules a bit and allow myself to feel what I see, instead of filtering everything through a “magazine” perspective. I’m going to have to practice more. And I’m going to have to keep listening to the voices that remind me who I am, however grumpy it makes me.
09/06/2013Behind the Lens – I Quit
“Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
- Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (via my friend, Dear Abby Leigh)
Some of you might have seen an Instagram I posted this week with a quiet note that “I quit photography again tonight.” If you didn’t, that’s okay. It wasn’t a formal announcement, it was just me being real with the moment I was in. Within ten minutes of my quitting, Pete was already telling me he wanted to keep going because he loves this crazy adventure we’re on, but I spent much of this week unsure that I could keep going.
You have to own a certain amount of healthy hubris (okay, confidence) to put yourself out publicly to work with people you’ve never met in a highly competitive industry. But I’m naturally shy, and I’m an evolving artist, wife, mama, and chronically ill person. For me, confidence doesn’t come without a healthy dose of self-care, which means that I work more slowly than others. It means I take on less work. It means I screen my clients. It means that what I choose to do is worth more.
I don’t have time or energy for people who only want “a photographer,” who don’t like me, or who won’t trust me. My ideal client is the client who believes I mean to act in his or her best interest, regardless of what the contract says. I’m not in this job to take advantage of people or to be taken advantage of in return. The contract is the bare minimum of what both the client and I can live with, meant to protect both our interests in the exchange of money, goods, and services, but ultimately, the signatures on the contract simply free me to “owe no man anything but love” (which, when you think about it, is everything, and I can’t wait to give everything for my clients).
I heard from a few of you after I posted that Instagram about quitting the other day, dear amazing hearts who were brave enough to fight for me after that little comment I made in a moment of not-enoughness. You told me that I was needed. You told me how sad you would be if I stopped doing what I am doing. You told me I was brave and beautiful and worth loving – when I didn’t even ask you to tell me that.
I think it was Brian from Richard Photo Lab who told me that when you start a business, you have a responsibility to make sure that you can be here for your clients in twenty years. Having a business is not necessarily about having a big name or becoming world famous or booking every bride who contacts you – it’s about building something real and solid enough that it will endure through the fads and the moves and the changes that send so many people out of business in just a couple of years.
This week, thanks to you who spoke into my life, I realized that what I have been doing has been working. That my being here in twenty years is something that other people want too, that for all the hardness on the back end, there’s a place that has been carved out for me now as a photographer and as a person who sees and dares to say the things other people feel.
I do believe I am beautiful. I believe that I am brave, and I believe that I am worth loving. I believe that I have something worth offering to others. I’m in this business because it brings me to life and because it gives life to others. I want to be here to care for other brides in a way others did not care for me, to be one hundred percent behind their dreams, their loves, and the memories they want to hold.
So I started again after quitting. I stammered my way through a client meeting last night, feeling quite unprofessional. I’ve rarely been as aware of my personhood in a client interaction as I was there. But I kept thinking of the people who believe in me, of the God who said “GO,” of the amazing people I’ve gotten to photograph this year, of the way my work is beginning to come into its own. I kept talking. I held onto what I’d slammed into Pete’s chest when I quit the other day, that “I am worth something,” that “what I give has value,” and if someone doesn’t want that, it’s not my responsibility to make them want it. My responsibility is only to keep offering.
You don’t build something real and solid without putting in a lot of tears and frustration and patience and perseverance. You have to be patient with yourself, and patient with your clients (and potential clients), patient with your industry, patient with your peers. You have to keep getting up the next morning and doing the next thing.
And sometimes “the next thing” is quitting and starting again, trembling through a client meeting or three, believing that you are capable of keeping your promises, and refusing to let the “no” steal your willingness to love.
It’s my new favorite word. It’s an aura word (geez, I’m such a poet) that says a lot in a very little space, and for a girl who feels as though she’s constantly explaining things, it’s a very valuable word.
For me, “AESTHETIC” wraps itself around my “organic, elegant, intimate” approach to photography. It bows to “timeless” and “dances” with “romantic,” spinning out into “soft, light, and airy” in a “sensual” waltz still owned by “innocent.” It takes “real” and makes “art,” until I sometimes feel that I am really living a “dream.”
For a long time, I thought photography was just about *how* I shot, but now I am seeing more clearly that it is also about *what* I shoot. And what I shoot has words too: “cotton, linen, lace;” “white, neutrals, lavender, rose;” “breath, wind, laughter;” “sea, sky, love.” My aesthetic is about the curve of her neck, the strength of his hands, the look in their eyes. It is an “honest” vision of “hope” and how it feels to be “alive,” both on the good days and the bad days. It is “feeling” and “touching” and “holding.”
It is the turn of a phrase that tells the “story” for each image I make. It is curiosity and creativity, discovery and amazement. Aesthetic is the word that reminds me to be “present” for every shoot, that keeps me “aware” of my clients and the “joy” we’re creating “together.”
It’s a good word, and it’s even better when I see how its aura has been playing out in my work this year. I am still learning the language, but I’m happy to know the words now, even if I’m still working on my accent…
A few of you might know already that Exquisitrie is going to replace The Girl in the White Dress as the wedding branch of my photography. Part of the reason for this change is another photographer in Australia who is building her entire business around “Girl in the White Dress,” and as much as I lovelovelove the name for a wedding brand. My personal integrity won’t allow me to simply add a “the” for my own use.
My wedding photography will still be all about the girl in the white dress, but I am planning (and already working) to enhance my level of client care across the board, and I want my wedding brand to speak that focus from the get-go.
Exquisitrie is the gift I want to give to my brides, the extra “it-factor” that sets me apart from Uncle Bob and his dollar-a-photo, non-edited digital cookie-cutter delivery. It is my personal attention to every detail, my absolute commitment to the very best I can give. It is my pledge to make room for my heart in my work to create fine art on every level of my bride’s experience so that the girl in the white dress feels that she herself is exquisite because of her interaction with me.
The new name is an original remake of one of my very favorite words (we are looking into trademarking it), and it encapsulates a service that is itself a product, with all the fashion and vintage and delicate light-and-lovely connotations already characteristic of my work.
F O L L O W O N F A C E B O O K | F O L L O W O N T W I T T E R
marked by flawless craftsmanship,
beautiful, ingenious, delicate, or elaborate execution;
marked by deep sensitivity, or subtle understanding;
pleasing through beauty, fitness, or perfection.
having uncommon or esoteric appeal.
My hands were shaking when I made this decision. It is huge and vulnerable and one of the most authentic things I’ve ever done with my business. Never before have I dared to place such value on who I am and what I do (this is a whole nother post, people!!!), but I have known that I am more than I was when I began, and I can walk forward knowing without a doubt that this is right for me and for my brides.
So please, click over and join the launch party for some super-special previews coming only to those who sign up! I’d love to have you along to help me spread the word when we take Exquisitrie live!