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Category: Freelance & Self Promotion

Photographer Spotlight: Melanie Taylor | Tips for Beautiful Event Photography

Melanie Taylor is a local photographer from the Chicago, IL area who’s passionate about capturing stories on camera. She specializes primarily in event photography, but her talents and experience also span commercial and residential photography, candid and portrait photography, wedding photography, photojournalism,  styled interior architectural photography, and beyond. We sat down with Melanie to pick her brain about what it takes to be a successful professional photographer. We’re excited to share her tips and tricks learned over her 20+ years of experience with you!

Tell me about your journey to becoming a freelance photographer. 

I started shooting in high school. It was back in the days of wet labs and film. My first camera was a Canon AE1 with a 50mm 1.8. I had a big crush on Georgia O’Keeffe and my early work had a lot of flowers. When I started incorporating people, I loved it. I’ve never been much with a brush and paper, so photography gave me creative freedom. I put in years and years of wedding photography for bigger companies before I was comfortable shooting on my own. I got to mentor under lots of different photographers as a second shooter and with that experience, you start to see how to work on the fly.

Melanie_Taylor_PhotographyWhat’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a photographer?

It’s as much about the images as it is about how you make someone feel about themselves. I once worked with a wedding photographer who had a really big, over the top personality.  He’d exude positivity and enthusiasm, and knew exactly how to make people feel confident and relaxed. He’d be shooting a bride and groom and he’d say  “OH MY GOD– these look so good, you look so amazing,” and just kept the praise going. He did it so well that they believed it, and they felt more confident all day, without even seeing the shots he’d taken.  Half of it is making someone feel like they look really good, and then they’re going to do better for you during the shoot. I tried to absorb that and it’s definitely one of my stronger aspects.

I’ve photographed a lot of families – and sometimes the men can get weird and awkward.  They do this tense smile, and turtle themselves (rigid shoulders and neck) so it’s really important to help them relax and get them into a more natural pose, with the shoulders out, neck back, and a slight turn of the head.  To help them feel more comfortable, it sometimes helps to touch them gently and give them eye contact, which boosts their confidence. Don’t be afraid to say, “You look so good!” and tell them how beautiful their wife and children are. Bring some jokes into it, softly feel out their interests. 95% of the time it’s the women who are booking the shoot, so it’s helpful to quiz them a little bit. Ask what her husband is into, take note of any special interests, ask about his cars, favorite sports, just to have something to talk about.  “Oh, I hear you have this really big truck,” you say — then you can see when someone cracks and you break past that uncomfortable barrier.

Melanie_Taylor_PhotographyWhat’s your favorite subject matter to photograph and why?

I really enjoy photographing events and the people enjoying them. It’s super rewarding to see people interacting and capture their feelings toward each other and the space where it’s all taking place. My favorite event last year was the 4th of July celebration at Rolling Green Country Club. So many happy people, amazing food, beautiful decor, and a huge firework display!

 

 

What’s the biggest challenge you face as a professional photographer?

It can be a highly competitive field. I’m very fortunate to be part of the Happy Tog group. They are like minded photographers who enjoy sharing knowledge and resources. With wedding photography, the biggest challenge is usually managing the client’s expectations and talking them down from anything that’s unrealistic.

Melanie_Taylor_PhotographyHow do you prepare for a wedding shoot? Any rituals or special techniques to get to know the bride and groom beforehand?

When a couple inquires about a wedding, we always meet for coffee first. I want to get to know who they are and if we are a good match. We usually hang for an hour and talk about their priorities for the day. If they have a Pinterest board already, we look at it together. About a month before the date we spend another hour on the phone talking about the timeline and what are realistic expectations within it. The week before the wedding, we confirm addresses. On the wedding day, we relax and have fun!

Any advice for other photographers just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey?

Find good mentors and DON’T work for free! There’s nothing like tons of experience to make you better. Just putting those hours under your belt will help you learn to work on the fly and adapt to the environment.

Melanie_Taylor_PhotographyCan you tell me about the most fun photo shoot you’ve ever done? 

Last fall I had the opportunity to take pictures for an engagement. We had so many rainy weekends in a row that scheduling had been a problem. Finally, we had a 2-hour window on a Saturday morning. We tromped through the woods to a spot that had some colorful graffiti I had scouted earlier in the year. Well…now there was a raging stream halfway into it due to the rains. It was unexpected and I have to hand it to the guy, he kneeled down right in it and proposed. The water soaked his pants and shoes and made for an amazing image. It was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but let a couple tears flow!

How do you market your photography business? Can you talk about your social media strategy and what works to secure new clients?

I have my website, MelClicks.com and my Facebook business page. I use social media to tag photos of my clients, and request if they post that they also tag me. I also tag the venue in my posts which helps me build great relationships with the facility coordinators and gives the venue some exposure, too. I find that sharing amazing GIF images works really well for high engagement on social media! Posts with just text, not so much. Also, I have redundancy with my Facebook and blog posts. Jimdo is my website provider and it’s been eye-opening watching the flow of traffic and that 99% of the time it’s being viewed on a mobile device. As always, the best advertising is referrals from former clients.

Melanie-Taylor-PhotographyHow do you stay inspired?

I stay creative by being involved with the local photo community. Sometimes it’s a photo shoot that has nothing to do with my genre that gives me a burst of new ideas. Sure it can be tough to walk into an event where you might not know anyone, but the payoff can be a great new contact!

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How to Sell Your Nature Photography

Make money doing what you love by selling greeting cards of your photography.

Taking photos of nature and wildlife is a passion for many lovers of the great outdoors. Nature photographers spend hours outside at parks composing beautifully proportioned images of landscapes or the vivid and crisply detailed macro shot of a single flower. Some are fortunate enough to work for National Geographic or have thriving careers in the photography industry. For many others photography is a hobby. How do you take your hobby to the next level and make an income stream from it? An easy way to get started is by selling photo cards. It’s easier than you think, and we’ll show you how.

Photo Frame Cards for Nature Photography
Examples of nature photo cards. Blank greeting cards with a “picture frame” style front cover make it easy to insert your own photographs.

How To Make Nature Photo Cards

  • Select Your Best Photos & Make Prints – Take inventory of your photo collection and narrow it down to just a few of your strongest images. Make prints (usually 4″ x 6″) of these photos.
  • Assemble The Cards – With pocket-style photo insert cards, the front cover has a window opening to slide your photo in. This makes it easy to create instant photo greeting cards, and if you change your mind, you can remove the photo without damaging the image or card.
  • Add Your Personal Touch – Don’t forget to include your name, web address, and the title of your photo and location. Some photographers like to handwrite this on the window border or back of the card, some create printed labels to stick on the back, while others choose to have us foil stamp their cards for a truly professional look.
  • Consider Product Packaging – While not necessary, it is a good idea to insert your cards into a clear cellophane sleeve to protect it from fingerprints and moisture.

Where To Sell Your Nature Photo Cards

  • Parks & Forests – A great place to sell photo cards is within gift shops at parks and tourist areas. Many larger parks and wildlife areas have gift shops on site to sell souvenir pins, walking stick medallions, iron-on patches, ornaments, commemorative pins, and other souvenir items. Greeting cards of photographs taken at the park are the perfect compliment to these other items! Visitors love to take home visual reminders of places they’ve been.
  • Local History Museums – An often overlooked place is your local history museum. People visit museums to learn more about specific regions, so selling cards featuring photos of that area is a natural fit.
  • Tourist Areas – There is great opportunity to sell your photographs to tourists visiting your area. Take photos of the natural surroundings in town, perhaps even expand into local architecture & landmark photography. We’ve seen photo cards at coffee houses, fudge shops, ice cream parlors, flower shops, apple and pumpkin farms, and general gift shops. Photo cards also do great when merchandised at the front counter of locally owned restaurants that require you to pay at the cash register.
  • Farmer’s Markets – Setting up a booth in a farmer’s market is a great way to meet new people, sell your cards and get fresh air all at the same time. If running your own booth is too much work or money, see if another vendor would be willing to partner with you. For instance, selling cards at a booth that also sells fresh cut flowers or handmade gifts is a smart idea.
  • Art Fairs – If you are already selling larger prints, why not offer some smaller gifts as well? Your photo cards are at a price point that most art fair goers will gladly pay for. Be sure to include your studio logo and website info to lead them back to your online shop for your larger prints.
  • Food Co-ops – While it might seem an unlikely place, it’s worth checking into your local food cooperative. While some are strictly member-only, stores that are open to the public often sell work from local artists and photographers.
  • Etsy.comEtsy offers photographers a place to easily sell their photo cards and reach a wide audience. Try setting up your own Etsy shop and promote it with your blog, website, or Facebook page.

Other Tips

  • Display Your Goods – For offline (in-store) sales, in most cases you’ll be responsible for your own card display. This can be as simple as a basket filled with your cards or a wire greeting card display rack.
  • Welcome & Inform With Signage – Try creating a sign with the name of your photography business, price and a short bio. Make it personable by including a photo of yourself. Any little bit of information can help make a connection between you & the customer. If selling to a local market or if your work has been acknowledged, make that a selling point. Example: “Martha Williamson – Award Winning Local Photographer”
  • Take Photos of Your Cards – For selling online, you’ll need crisp and attractive photos of your cards. Set aside an afternoon to do a product photo shoot. Optimize your images in Photoshop using the “Save for web” feature to create quick-loading optimized images.
  • Determine Your Selling Price – Do other photographers in your area also sell cards? Do some research and find out what they are charging and price yours accordingly. Generally speaking, you can easily sell cards in most markets at a price point between $4-$6 per card. Buying your insert frame cards and prints in bulk can help cut costs and keep more money in your pocket.
  • Think Seasonal – In most parts of the world, nature changes with each season. Varying your photo card selection by season will keep your work fresh and current. Don’t forget the time of year people send the most cards – Christmas! Create seasonal winter and holiday theme cards and make these available starting in early November.
  • Be Patient & Positive – Like with any new adventure, results can take time. Don’t become frustrated if your cards don’t sell right away, give it time. If your cards still are not selling, evaluate your photo choices, selling location and marketing efforts. Make adjustments and keep a positive attitude!

Selling photo art greeting cards is a great way to make extra money, express your creativity and gain exposure of your photography.

Related: Don’t forget that June 15th is Nature Photography Day!

Do you have any photo card selling tips or ideas? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below!

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