Learning how to behave. Learning the good and bad ways to get attention. Getting past those couple of awkward years that included growing pains and questionable decisions. No, we’re not describing our teenage years — we’re talking about our business. In a lot of ways, Luke and Cat Photography feels like its own living, breathing, personality-filled being. And while we’re pretty darn proud of where it stands today, our business has definitely experienced its own version of all of our worst teenage choices: the horrible high school haircuts, the slang we tried out just to fit in, the whacko fashion choices. But that’s what happens on the road to maturity — you hit a lot of bumps along the way.
In the early days of Luke and Cat, we were actually called
It was a name that seemed right at the time but which now seems embarrassingly off the mark, like if Luke suddenly decided to go by Billy Ray. (Nothing against the Billy Rays of the world, of course.) We’re pretty sure our current friends and followers would never recognize the jumbled promotional materials we used when we were just starting out. They featured photos of beat-up cowboy boots, smiling cartoon faces, and enough exclamation points to give any used car salesman a run for his money. Want to see what we’re talking about?
And as for our services? That particular misfire could be summed up in two words:
. See, we took a look around at what other photographers were doing and decided the mini session (a.k.a. a session that’s shorter and cheaper than normal) was the thing to do.
We also figured the more discounts we offered, the more clients we’d attract, so we spent endless time fiddling with pricing and promotions. When we look back on those days now, we have the same thought as when we unearth a photo from our awkward teenage years:
If we only knew then what we know now.
Because those cowboy boot promotional cards and mini session promises had something in common.
On the one hand, we weren’t creating images and materials that suited the sophisticated brides we wanted to bring in as clients. And as for the mini sessions — well, it was something we knew others were doing and it fed into our belief that every red-blooded person loves a sale. But while it did pull in a few clients, it wasn’t for the right reasons. We realized that we were thinking too much like shoppers who love sales and not enough like business owners offering a respected service. If you start discounting the way we were, you train clients to value sales and price over a quality experience. This was a big-deal epiphany that helped shape the way we do business… but it didn’t hit us overnight.
There are two bad habits that photographers with young businesses tend to have. One is thinking that the uncertainty and clumsiness of their early days is a rare thing. (Hint: just like those awkward teenage years, we’ve all been there.) The other is getting caught in
When you’re just starting to get your feet wet, it’s tempting to look at the equipment, clients, and overall brand of a more established photographer and think “I don’t have that. I’ll never have that, so I’ll never be successful like that.” And, let’s face it, comparison is just a hop, skip, and jump away to an inferiority complex—especially for creative people. Looking to other photographers for inspiration is one thing; looking at them and seeing only their success and not the journey that got them there is something else entirely. If you’re caught in the comparison trap, we have just one thing to say:
As the very wise Theodore Roosevelt said:
And, as the very eccentric Karl Lagerfeld added:
We didn’t always have the kind of resources and vision for our business that we do now — but as we began to transform Our Little Ranch Photography into Luke and Cat Photography, we infused our goals into everything we did. When one client with a tight budget worried about her wedding’s fake flower decorations, we focused our lenses on her hands holding the bouquet, or the way her grandmother’s ring sparkled. We found joy and beauty in everything and made it our personal mission to
Sure we made missteps along the way, but beating ourselves up because we weren’t as good as our photography heroes sure wasn’t going to help.
Eventually, something really cool happened.
We realized that we were laying the foundation for the brand you see today and that we could take it one step further. We used the experience we’d gathered to develop our Bride Guide so we could share our knowledge with clients. Not only was this helpful to couples planning their big day, it also was a way to cleanly display our style and attract like-minded brides while we were at it. Today, it’s something that defines our business — but we never could have made it happen without experience and, yes, those embarrassing missteps from our early days.
Take it from us: A young business just starting out isn’t so different from a teen trying to form an identity. So if our grains-of-sand-turned-pearls-of-wisdom make your rite of passage a bit smoother, we’ll consider it a win all around.
The Take Aways:
If you feel yourself getting sucked into the comparison trap, remember that the photographers you admire didn’t get where they are without a lot of work and a lot of trial and error.
Take advantage of all opportunities to express who you are and what you can do. If that means drawing attention to certain details of an event over others, so be it. Honing your brand goes hand in hand with honing your instincts.
You wouldn’t look at a marathon runner and think “I’ll never be able to do what she does, so I won’t even go for a walk today”. That’s why you shouldn’t look at another photographer’s work and get too hung up on how yours measures up. Trying counts for a lot because you’ll never learn how to grow your brand otherwise.
There’s no wallowing in photography! Don’t let growing pains or bumps in the road get you down.
When it comes to new businesses, everybody (we repeat: everybody) will go through the school of hard knocks. Don’t beat yourself up for needing a learning curve. Don’t get in your own way by obsessing over woulda-coulda-shouldas. Give yourself a break and don’t forget that this is your passion. Keep on keepin’ on and eventually you too will grow into your signature style.
Luke & Cat
A few weeks ago we hosted our second Life & Craft Workshop on the ranch. We had 12 photographers join us from all over the United States (even Canada, eh!) for three days of learning and community. This workshop sold out very quickly and early to our waitlist only, so most of the world never even knew we were hosting it.
Meet our March 2016 community!
Lori, Chloe, Starr, Laura Elizabeth, Savanna, Karen, Tara, Hannah Ruth, Candace, Taylor, Kati, and Chandra!
At our first workshop we were too busy talking and teaching to take any behind the scenes photos. While we were able to snag a few of these photos, this time, we had our thinking caps on and asked our Life & Craft Workshop alum Breanna McKendrick to join us and take behind the scene pictures for us. Thank you, Breanna!
We can't wait to share all of the official photos from each of our shoots! For now, enjoy this look behind the scenes!
Sunday night is our first night together and the first time we meet everyone! After clinking a few glasses of bubbly (everything is better with champagne!) we enjoy a dinner outdoors under the Texas stars in our front yard.
This is Catherine Duffin from Two Be Wed, the designer for our welcome dinner, our styled wedding, and our farewell fiesta. She puts up with us for 3 days and never stops smiling. Somehow, she takes a few of our random ideas, merges them with a ton of her own ideas, and puts them together into something far greater than we could ever imagine. Thank you, Catherine!
Belle Epoque getting set up for the Welcome Dinner as we wait for the attendees to arrive.
This is Starr Mercer, our first Canadian workshop alumni! Thank you Starr for sharing the next two pictures with us!
Monday + Tuesday Daytime: Classroom Time
During the day (and the Texas heat) we spend two full days in the 'classroom' also known as our living room, talking about shooting and all things marketing and business related.
We had two slots for guest speakers in the schedule. Natalie Dawley of Two Be Wed joined us Monday and rocked our world with so much great information from a wedding planner/event designer perspective. Natalie is a legend in the wedding industry throughout Texas and the South, and the 'why' behind our businesses is very similar. We were so honored to have her with us and had so many a-ha moments listening to her speak. Our attendees loved every minute of this, so thank you Natalie!
On Tuesday, one of our past brides Katie, her daughter Willa, and her mom Terri joined us to talk about their experience finding a photographer, what was important to them before they hired someone, what is most important to them looking back after the wedding, and so many other good things. Of course, when we were introducing them, we had to fight a huge lump in our throat because these two are the perfect example of why we love our business so much.
It wouldn't be a workshop without our famous meat and cheese tray!
And Sprinkles cupcakes of course! Red Velvet for the win.
Monday and Tuesday Evening: Shoots on the Ranch
Every evening we headed out into the pastures of the ranch for shoots at golden hour. On Monday night we photographed an engagement session where our attendees could see how we interact with our couples, learn posing ideas, and see how we shoot everything in camera for minimal editing.
Tuesday night we had the treat of photographing our styled shoot by Two Be Wed, entitled Hill Country Sunsets. There are so many great images from this shoot and we look forward to sharing them soon!
Did we mention how tall our models were?
Our whole group! Great photographers and friends.
After the engagement shoot, Cat's dad picked us all up for a hayride through the ranch right as the sun dipped below the horizon. Starr grabbed this shot (which is so cool!) of the cows running behind the hayride! They wanted to meet our new friends, too!
And then, our final night of shooting was upon us.
There she is again, making sure everything is just right. Thank you, Catherine!
Alysha from Ranch House Designs joined us once again to film the workshop. We can't wait to see our video from this one. Check out our past video here!
Tuesday Night - Farewell Fiesta
My favorite time of the entire workshop was our time at the fiesta. First, a mariachi greeted us and led our guests into our backyard where we had a Mexican feast, complete with margaritas, toasts, and wedding cake!
As we were finishing setting up for the fiesta, Cat's sister Rachel (who was and always is such an indispensable help in executing our workshops) busted in on a picture with the mariachis while they were warming up.
The view from the attendees perspective (Starr snagged it) as being led into the fiesta!
So this cute lady on the left is actually a Luke and Cat bride! Chloe is getting married in May and is also building her own photography business. You might wonder, what's it like getting into the nitty gritty of pricing and profit margins with one of your clients sitting right there? Well, we run our business in a way that is honest and that we can be proud of, so we never worried about talking about these things in front of Chloe. Amen for authenticity!
Our farewell toast - one of less than 5 times I've seen Luke get choked up!
This corny cake cutting photo happened because all of our attendees wanted it to!
Abby from Two Be Wed led the charge of the Farewell Fiesta and also served us all the delicious cake. It was such a treat that our cake from our styled shoot was a real cake. Thanks Maple and Love!
Our hearts are full! Thank you to each of our attendees and all of our friends and family for helping us pull off yet another Life & Craft Workshop. We are excited to welcome our April workshop attendees to the ranch in just a few weeks, and have even more surprises planned for them! If you'd like more information about our workshops, visit our website or sign up for our waiting list.
Luke and Cat
First, there was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Then, there was Four Weddings and a Funeral. Luke and Cat now proudly present: The Mythical Bride. Now, please welcome our second vision in white as she walks down the aisle. She’s: The Luxury Bride.
. In this email series, we will be looking at three different brides through the lens of running a successful photography business. Our first post introduced
Back in 2013, we got to capture Ashlena and Weston’s destination wedding at the Hard Rock Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic. The locale was perfectly suited to the couple, who are beautiful inside and out. But, when we arrived, there was a hitch we hadn’t counted on. They say that everything’s bigger in Texas, but this resort was massive! There were miles between the beach where the ceremony would take place and the hotel where everyone was staying—a distance that was extra daunting when we considered all the equipment we’d need to haul around on their big day.
It came down to this: we could either rent a golf cart at cost of $450 for the weekend (an expense that would come out of our own pockets) or we could save that money and hoof it with our heavy camera equipment.
Now, in a case like this, renting a golf cart could be seen by some as a luxury. We happen to think that luxury isn’t always about money—it’s about priorities. Why not lace up our walking shoes, skip that cost and work off a few of those Sprinkles cupcakes? Because that weekend, we had different priorities. We whipped out our credit card and paid for that golf cart. You see, for us, renting that golf cart wasn’t a luxury; it was an investment.
We saved time and energy by being able to zip around with all our gear. And, we got better shots in more locations because we didn’t have to ‘waste’ time walking the resort. As a bonus, instead of being a pain in the neck because of its size, the huge resort turned into our own super-fun racetrack. (The guards at the gate weren’t thrilled, but what else are you supposed to do when you’ve got a knack for stunt golf-cart driving?)
Best of all, we created extra value in terms of “The Luke & Cat Experience” by chauffeuring the happy couple. In fact, we captured some of our favorite shots of the bride while she was riding to and from the wedding.
What may have seemed like a decision on a luxury splurge—to rent or not to rent?—ended up being the thing that tipped the whole weekend in our favor and allowed us to produce the kind of quality photographs that represent what we’re all about.
We’re sure a lot of folks would have opted out of the golf cart rental fee, despite that old piece of wisdom about spending a little to save a lot. And that’s why it’s important to start looking at luxury differently—not as a frivolous, expensive, or unattainable indulgence, but rather an opportunity to enjoy something you value. Luxury is a matter of priorities, which means every “average” bride is The Luxury Bride.
We’ve seen brides spend $4K on their wedding dress and serve a $10 per plate buffet because that’s where their priorities were. Likewise, we’ve seen a bride wear a family heirloom gown (free), choose inexpensive wildflowers for her bouquet ($100), and go all out on a great live band ($5k) because music and dancing were the couple’s passion. We serve The Luxury Bride who values heirloom photography. She’s willing to invest a large percentage of her budget on this expense because it’s worth so much to her. One of the couples we just met said: “Even if we have to get married in a pole barn and serve peanut butter & jelly sandwiches to our guests, we’re booking you as our wedding photographers!”
To put it simply,
and vice versa. If your clients can afford to have an “average” wedding by American standards, your clients can afford your pricing. The question is: What matters most to them? Do they value what you offer? Do they see its worth? It’s your job to communicate why your service or product is worth the investment.
The Take Aways
It’s about time to reinvent your definition of luxury. Despite what you know about price tags, the truth is that people put value on things based on their priorities. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that what you do is frivolous.
Do you recognize the value of what you provide? You’re selling their story, you’re making their memories, you're capturing their emotions and love in a beautiful and thoughtful way. People will pay for a luxury if it’s worthy of their time and money—it’s up to you to prove it.
The question isn’t how much your work costs, but how much it’s worth—and worth is about more than dollar value. You can do a lot to connect with the personalities, emotions, and personal priorities of potential clients. Your business strategy should include helping them envision how they’ll benefit from working with you. Can they see just how you’ll immortalize the important moments in their life? Can they picture how their dream celebration will be that much more extraordinary with your help?
What do a golf cart-turned-wedding chariot and that iconic blue Tiffany & Co. box have in common? They’re both part of an overall experience. Make sure your entire experience reflects the quality of your work, your commitment to customer service, and your own priorities as a businessperson and an artist. Sometimes the little blue box matters more than what is in it. Our clients book us for more than great photos; they also buy into the way we package and deliver the experience of making them.
What’s essential to one person (first class airfare, room service, valet parking, or golf cart transportation at a big venue) won’t necessarily be true for another. Take time to consider your priorities and recognize that if something is important to you, then it’s worth the investment. Do the same with your clients.
P.S. If you liked The Mythical Bride and The Luxury Bride, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. Part 3 (the grand finale!) will be emailed exclusively to our subscribers.