Standing Out in a Sea of Images
Why do you follow me?
For years, I have pondered what gets people interested in photography. What is their driving mindset behind liking my images or following my business on Instagram or Facebook? Is it my editing style? The time of day I shoot? Where I shoot? The wardrobe styling? Though obviously a good image incorporates all of these elements, what I discovered (albeit slowly and through some trial and error) is that images that strike a personal chord get the most love.
Unmanufactured, personalized structure goes a long way in photography. Why? Because people are interested in seeing the things, places, and people they connect with on a personal level.
Part of my recent reading list has included a fascinating book called "The Dragonfly Effect" by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith. The book's premise is about the ways people drive interaction on social media. The book is broken into four key points about how to make a difference in the online networking market. The points, or "wings", are:
- Grab Attention
- Take Action
Grabbing attention stood out to me because it's my primary goal as I develop a social following with HMM. The following are some points I drew from The Dragonfly Effect, and applications to the points outlined in the book. I share them so my clients and photographer friends can understand a little more about my photographic process, and how I make connections with my clients and imagery.
How do I get personal on social media?
Digital media does a good job of depersonalizing posts. With little to no personal interaction, social networking inherently takes the connection away from many posts. There are some ways easy ways I like to connect clients with my work: tagging and sharing to my personal page from my business page so that clients see I really care about them and their story. It's a great starting point, but it doesn't tell the full story.
Recently, I restarted blogging about my sessions. I did this for a few reasons. First, I missed the ability to tell my client's stories. Facebook and Instagram are pretty limiting when it comes to telling a 250 to 500 word story. They do the job to share the content, but I felt like something was missing in posting my client's images with little written background. Storytelling is an essential part of sharing an image. It also changes how you photograph: your photos have to have purpose.
The other reason is that blogging connects my sessions with more than just social networking. Anyone in the world can sit down and google my blog, and bam: it's there. Blogging gives unlimited access to my work, letting anyone with internet see and share my client's stories.
A key point that Aaker makes in Dragonfly is that content needs to be new, original and surprising to catch audience's attention. How do I apply this to my photography? I try to reimagine and create an image that is true to my creative instincts. This means I avoid recreating an photograph based on someone else's work.
I always want to avoid image imitation.
Does this mean that I don't look at other photographer's work to get inspired? Quite the contrary! But I try to instead view with muse in mind. Maybe I get inspired by a print, a dress, or a hairstyle. Or maybe it's a color or technique. Then I begin to journal shoot ideas and who I could try these ideas with: families, couples, models, etc.
I then try to incorporate one original journaled idea into every photo shoot. Maybe I can't go out on a skyscraper rooftop and photograph a sunset picnic dinner tomorrow, but I can certainly add a little color into my every day sessions. The point is to never become stagnant. Before every shoot, I try to plan one different set idea with my clients. So far, none of them have turned me down!
The key of connection
Aaker says entrepreneurs grab attention by showing audiences what's important to clients. This is easily done by connecting clients within the location where they are being photographed. That's why I always try to incorporate two key elements into my shoots: mementos and personal spaces.
I like to incorporate props that mean something to my clients. This might a guitar, a cup of coffee, or something as simple as a pen and notepad. But these props have a special sentiment to my clients. For example, when Taylor took her Dad's guitar to our shoot, the moment she started picking at the strings, she started laughing. The guitar brought back a memory that instantly connected her with someone she loved. That moment was personal for her, and lit her face up with joy.
Props can be static or interactive. They might be as simple as a favorite pair of shoes, or as substantial as a classic car. There is no limit to the imagination when it comes to incorporating things you love into photoshoots.
Another thing I like to incorporate into my sessions is the use of personal spaces. This doesn't just mean shooting in a client's home. It means inhabiting the spaces they love and use on a daily basis. Clients can be themselves when they are somewhere they feel comfortable and safe.
Obviously, one of my top location picks is home, but I like to suggest locations that extend outside the bubble of the comfort zone. Maybe a favorite coffee shop, or walking trail, or vacation home. Maybe it's a campfire or porch swing.
One of my favorite lifestyle sessions to date was with writer and social influencer Cheyenne. I asked her for suggestions on favorite hangouts, and without hesitation she said the Morning Times in Raleigh, NC. In the quiet of that space, with a chai in hand, I got the chance to photograph Cheyenne doing one of the things she loves most: writing.
That session let me share Cheyenne's passion and catch a glimpse into her lifestyle. It was fun and laid back, but deeply meaningful at the same time.
Clients, if you come away with anything from this post, I encourage you to think about what you would want to incorporate into your photo sessions to make them singularly personal. There is no object or location that can't be used to portray who you are. Don't hesitate share what you want to say about yourself. It can be completely quirky, and that's awesome! I love to work with people who want to share something different about themselves with the world.
Photographer friends, focus on developing personal, original images that speak about who you are as an artist, as well as conveying your client's story. This will make you stand out, keeping your work memorable as well as imaginative. Avoid image imitation, and instead keep a journal of original thoughts that you can incorporate into your sessions. This is the way you grab the attention of your audiences. Remember, your creativity is unstoppable. No one can ever take that away from you.