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The Road to WPPI

One of my followers on Twitter, Heather Curiel (btw, does awesome work with tintypes!!) asked me to do a post about the importance of WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International). Every year in Las Vegas, the WPPI convention dominates the city in one of the most engaging week-long workshops and expositions. But with so many photographer conventions out there, it’s hard to choose why WPPI? Here are my thoughts…

Location, location, location! Vegas is one of the cheapest places to fly into due to its central location in the US. Yes, PDN is awesome, but it’s a little difficult for my west-coast buds to make it all the way to NYC. Imaging USA is sponsored by PPA (Professional Photographers of America), but it changes locations every year. WPPI is consistantly located in Las Vegas every year. Which is great because WPPI can get you great deals on hotels as well as airfaire. Most airlines fly cheap to Las Vegas anyway because of the huge tourism budget Vegas has to bring in visitors. Clever, eh?

Experience! The WPPI 2011 convention in February will be the 30th anniversary of this photographic tradition. With some of the biggest names in the business, Bambi Cantrell, Tony Corbell, Joe BuissinkJim Garner, Kevin Kubota, Jasmine Star, Ken Sklute, and so on… how can you afford to miss this annual get together of so many brilliant minds in the business all in one hotel? Plus, one of the biggest advantages of WPPI is the multitude of Master Classes you can attend. Each class holds up to 35 students and focuses on an intense 2 hours of very specific studio material. Everything from posing to lighting, from Photoshop to Lightroom, marketing and pricing, to social media and networking, everything is covered by the Master Classes offered at WPPI. My Master Class in 2011 will cover the growing advantages of online video marketing for your studio, how niche is that?

Friendships! The best part about WPPI is the lifelong relationships you’ll create while attending the convention. There’s so many gatherings and parties outside of the convention, like the Pay It Forward Party, where you can meet a lot of other photographers. There are no secrets about business building when you’re having a conversation with a new friend who operates a studio three states away. You can learn from studios just like your’s, but from other parts of the world. In my Master Class in 2010 alone, I had students from Oxford, Sydney, Columbia, Vancouver, Toronto, NYC, Austin, LA, Paris, etc. It’s the biggest opportunity for you to get first hand a real world glimpse of what’s going on in the photography industry.

Gadgets! Oh yes, and the vendor expo takes up two full-sized convention rooms :) Some of the best deals you can get from every vendor in the business you can receive while attending WPPI 2011. Plus, right now the WPPI 2010 Roadtrip is going on in 10 different cities across the country. If you register for the Roadtrip, you’ll receive free registration for WPPI 2011 in Vegas. Awesome!

So, I hope this gives you a better idea of some of the reasons by WPPI  is one of my personal favorites when it comes to photography conventions. It’s definitely an opportunity every photographer should take advantage of. See you there :)

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Am I worth it?

Many times, I get new photographers struggling with the same problem. Pricing. So, I thought I’d share with you something I wrote in response to a frustrated photog who was being hounded by the budget bride:

“Hey Dustin,

I’ve heard a lot of great things about your ability to run a profitable photography business (several, it seems). I think you would be the perfect person to demystify this issue.

How does one deal with potential customers who have very tight budget restrictions? I have several weddings under my belt, and I’m just starting a business here in Dallas. A bride back in Austin was referred to me by a friend and wants me to come back in January to shoot her wedding. However, she expressed a desire to pay no more than $500. She has admitted she doesn’t really understand how expensive wedding photography should be, but insists she has a tight budget.

I was thinking I could offer her à la carte services, but I wonder…how do you make it clear that this is a valuable investment, and going cheap isn’t necessarily wise? I hate to turn down a potential customer, but is $500 even worth traveling down to Austin? I spent a great deal of time and thought on my prices and I’d planned my wedding packages to start around $2400. Did you ever (or do you still) have to deal with frugal brides when you were starting out? Am I just being a diva?

Thanks a bunch, Dustin.”

Here’s what I wrote in reponse:

“No, you’re not a diva :) Accurate pricing helps to guratantee that you will still be in business for years to come. Trust me, you don’t want clients that don’t see the value of your services.

Choosy brides are typically not worth the hassle. They nitpick everything and end up taking up way more of your time than it’s worth. My basic rule of thumb for weddings is this:

For every hour I spend shooting a wedding, I expect at least 2 hours to spend on producing that wedding (photoshop, editing, album design, uploading, online hosting, etc.). For example, you shoot a 7 hour wedding, expect to spend 21 hours total on the wedding and post-production. Should you only get paid $500 for that much time? Plus, you have debts to pay off (rent, student loans, equipment, etc). Think of everything involved to shoot that wedding.

Trust me, it’s much better to let her go find her super-cheap photographer than to hire you. You have experience, a degree in photography, expenses, marketing, production costs, equipment charges, all of those things you have to pay for.

I would just politely tell her that your starting prices are competitive for Dallas and Austin rates. However, if that doesn’t work, you would be happy to refer her to someone else.

The best practice ever is to stand in front of the mirror and “I’m worth ($3,000)” or whatever price you see fit. Repeat it over and over until it becomes second nature. Because the more you believe you are worth $3,000, the more confidence it shows to potential clients. The clients that don’t question your reasons for your prices are the ones you want to work with because they find value in you.

It sucks starting a business, trust me I know! But hang in there, set your standards and stick to them. In the meantime, if you’re serious about shooting weddings, think about where your referrals are coming from. Go meet with some local wedding planners whose prices fall in line with yours and try to get their business, build their trust. Cut them a killer deal that they can offer to a bride to get a chance to work with them. A $500 bride can only refer you other $500 brides.

I hope this makes sense. Thanks and take care!

Dustin Meyer”

and here is her response:

“Thanks for the advice! You make a really good point in saying that $500 brides will only refer you to other $500 brides. I hadn’t thought about that. You’re right. It really does also take a lot of confidence to go out there and comfortably say “I’m worth so and so, and I’m sticking to that.” Guess I’ll have to practice :)

Thanks, Dustin!”

Disregard any particular price since your own city will have different pricing that can be supported by your current market. However, the principle is still the same: “Be confident in your work, and back it up with confident pricing”  Everything else will follow suit.


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Published in Rangefinder Magazine

Earlier this month, Rangefinder published their latest issue containing an interview of me about my uses of Vimeo, an online video community where I post many of my wedding slideshows as well as photography tutorials. It’s always great getting published for weddings and portraits. However, it’s especially great when you’re recognized for innovation and marketing from within your own industry! I’m very humbled and excited to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and love of Vimeo with the entire photographic community! Rangefinder magazine is a publication of WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographers International), which hosts one of the biggest pro photographer conventions in Las Vegas every year that I’ve had the privilege of teaching at. And a very big special thank you to the writer, Martha Blanchfield for making the interview so much fun and insightful.

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Facebook Places

Ok, so we’ve all seen location-based mobile apps like Gowalla, Yelp, and Foursquare rise to popularity quickly over the past year. Checking in to your favorite locations to get those shiny badges or the possibility of becoming mayor of your local Starbucks is just all too enticing to resist. However, what’s the point of all of this? Using these apps is a great way to see who’s around you. Possibly joining up with friends at your favorite sandwich shop is always a delight. But, honestly how often do you actually bump into your friends due to digitally pronouncing your location to the cyber world?

Most of us already realize that just like Google, these apps are mainly here to gather data about where we frequent and where our interest lie. Enter Facebook Places

Facebook Places was just recently release on Thursday and it already seems to be gaining in popularity. For photographers, this new feature shows great marketing potential for our studios. How? Facebook has graciously given us the ability to not only create Places for people to check in. They’ve also masterfully created the ability for us to tag our friends when we check in. What business potential does this have, you may ask? Well, let me provide you with a brief scenario…

As a senior portrait photographer in Austin, TX, Facebook Places via their mobile app for iPhone or by using their mobile web site from your smartphone, I can tag clients at Dustin Meyer Photography when I check in for their portrait session. Of course, they have the ability to change their privacy settings on the Facebook website. But, should they allow the ability for friends to tag them in Places, I can know announce to my client’s news feed and their friends that they are currently at my studio having their portraits made by me. Brilliant!

The extra benefit this nifty feature creates is that not only do the friends of my portrait clients learn that my client is having their portraits made. Their friends can also learn where my studio is and who else is in attendance. As long as you’re ok with people knowing where your business is located, this feature can be a great way to get more people to notice your business. Also, when people check in to other places nearby, your studio will show up in a list of places they can check in, bringing further attention to your business!

So what does this all mean for the future of other location-based apps? Well, I have my own theories, but of course it’s always smarter to give it a little time and see what happens :)


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Is your website a reflection of you?

Photography sites are all over the place. The creativity needle is spinning all around when it comes to the styles of sites that photographers are using to display their work. However, our sites may be revealing more than we realize.

The biggest problem with websites right now is that as photographers, our sites are a direct reflection of our level of confidence in our work. Think of it like this: when you come to a Flash-heavy site, your browser slows down, your computer speeds up, everything takes a big inhale. It’s almost as if the site itself is gearing up to make a big sales pitch. There’s music playing, colors splashing, maybe even some animated birds flying by or some flowers sprouting up. All in all, it’s a big production.

But what about the images? So much creativity has gone into building the site itself. However, does the same level of creativity in the site equal the amount of effort in the photos. Does it surpass them? Maybe you were in a hurry and posted some older photos just to get your flashy new site up and running. Did you build a fancy kit car with a shiny exterior, but put a tiny engine in it?

Offbeat Bride, a wedding blog, posted a great article about photographers and their websites. It basically hits all the points that many brides must deal with when they search across the wide expanse of photographer sites. It discourages the use of music on a photography site and flash heavy sites. It goes on to talk about the lack on information posted on sites such as pricing and location, however that’s more about open information than the tech side of the site.

The argument is that brides have only so much time in the day to browse websites for wedding photographers. Many of them are doing this during their lunch break, or god-forbid during work hours. Therefore, the longer your site takes to load, the less likely she is going to stick around. Plus, most of the time there aren’t any speakers on their computers at work, or they have the sound muted.

My question is this: Why are you hiding behind all of this fluff?

Everyday, I get questions about pricing, packages, albums, prints, websites, etc. And it all shows me a lingering problem in the photography industry… a lack of confidence.

Confidence in your work affects everything. It affects how you price yourself, how you package your weddings, how you negotiate the sale. It affects how flexible you are when people question your numbers. Do you stand firm, give a little, or completely bend over backwards. And honestly, do you want to work with someone who has little to no respect for your actual photography?

So why dress up your site with all the bells and whistles? Stand behind your work, put it out front for everyone to see. Let the image be what brings in clients or turns them away. It’s the image they’ll have after everything is said and done. You may have a great personality, but your personality isn’t going to be with them long after the wedding is done. It’s the image.

Be proud of your work. Take out all the distractions on your site and let brides see what they came to see. Be confident in your images and it will show through your site, your prices, everything.

Take care and be good to one another :)