As we didn’t have a wedding last weekend, we had a little room in our blogging schedule to answer a few more questions. Last time I put out call for questions, we got so many that there’s no way I could fit them all in one blog! I’ll say again… this isn’t really an FAQ post or a techie post, although we’re always happy to answer any technical questions anyone asks of us. This is mostly just things we’ve been asked lately that didn’t really justify an entire blog on their own, but were interesting enough (I thought) to be combined into one post.
Enjoy! (Or skip, and come back tomorrow.)
Where did the inspiration come from for your shoot in the desert? – Facebook
I feel lousy because I can’t remember who asked this, but someone on the McGowan Images Facebook page suggested recently that we talk about the thought process that leads to a shoot like “The Break Down”… so here we go!
Honestly, every shoot we do like that starts with an idea. Sometimes it’s an idea we WORK for, and other times it’s an idea that wakes me up in the middle of the night and won’t leave me alone until I do something about it.
In the case of “Secret Garden”, it was the former. I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. I finally sent a message with a few key words to my friend (and fabulous designer) Meg, and we made it happen.
When we shot “Laundry Day”, it was the result of some serious brainstorming. We wanted to do a shoot to officially launch Meg’s design business, and this idea came very naturally.
Now, most recently with “The Break Down”, things happened a little differently. We knew we were planning this vacation, and The Bergs had the same idea as Mack and I… it’d be a shame to be out there with such cool scenery and not shoot something. We initially considered shooting at the Neon Boneyard, but rejected that idea because it seems very done to me right now. I know lots of people that are shooting there. And I don’t blame them, it’s incredible. I definitely want to shoot there someday. But we wanted to do something very different.
So when Nicole found Nelson’s Landing, I jumped ALL over it. She and I worked together on the idea for the styling, and Abby dyed her toe-shoes black, and Mack made an incredible rock playlist to get us all in the mood, and we drove out to the desert in the middle of the night and waited for the sun to come up. We didn’t really have much of a plan once we got there, and we weren’t worried about telling a story… we just wanted to make some magic.
I have several other styled shoot ideas in my head, two of which Meg & I have been cooking around for over a year. Hopefully we’ll get around to making them happen someday. These shoots are good for our spirits as artists!
“How often do you raise your prices? Do you post online when you’re going to raise them, so people can book you before they go up?” – Katie
We raise our prices when we feel like it’s justified. Sometimes we’ll keep the same pricing for a year, other times a price point will barely last 6 months. It’s a constantly-evolving situation. We’re proud that the quality of our product continues to rise, and we’ve also got escalating business costs to cover. Our starting price point is always listed on the “contact” page of our main website, and we’re never shy about sending our full pricing magazine out to anyone who wants it. But no, we don’t give any sort of advance “warning” when we’re going to raise our prices… we just cost what we cost. It’s very important to Mack and I that we’re always completely comfortable with our pricing. Because we’re comfortable with it, I don’t feel like I have to apologize for it, or “warn” people that it’s happening. It just is what it is.
“I know all your packages include a complementary engagement session, but I’ve got a cousin that can do it for free, so can’t I switch that out for something else, or get money off my package?” – twice a week
The short answer here is ‘No’.
The sarcastic answer is, “Your grandma can bake bread, but that doesn’t mean you’ll take a loaf of that to a restaurant with you.” I’d never actually SAY that to someone, but I think it sometimes.
Here’s the thing… we consider the engagement session to be an integral part of the “getting to know you” process. That’s when we learn the difference between your real smile and your Chandler smile. That’s when we see how your bodies fit together, and how comfortable you are. That’s when we figure out what specific variety of bad jokes it’ll take to make you belly laugh. The engagement session is when we all get super comfortable with each other.
So yes, the engagement pictures are important, for the sake of the pictures alone. But the TIME together is even more valuable. If you shoot your engagement session with your cousin, or friend from college, or whatever, it’ll get you the pictures. But it won’t get you the comfort. We insist on having that time with our couples before the wedding day, so that by the time the big day rolls around, we’re all sittin’ cozy together like we’ve done this before.
Because we’ve done this before.
It makes a huge difference, and we believe so strongly in it that we’ve decided not to do weddings without engagement sessions anymore (except in the rare case of destination bookings from couples outside our area, and things like that, in which case we have long phone dates instead.)
“What’s your favorite thing to get in the mail?” – Jack
Yes, my son asked me this question. I thought it was interesting. And also, it gives me an excuse to shoehorn in a fun picture here in a minute…
Typically, my favorite mail to get is the questionnaires from our clients. They’re always a ton of fun to read. I also like greeting cards where someone actually takes the time to write a message… and I love Victoria’s Secret gift cards. So does Mack.
But currently, my favorite mail ever is from my friend Laura. She mentioned on Facebook that she was making felt ornaments of the Muppet characters (why? WHY NOT?!?!) and I said our favorites were the Hecklers. Well, not only did she make The Hecklers for Mack and I, but she also sent a Fozzie Bear and an Animal for the kids. Seriously? That’s kind of amazing. We may just have to theme our whole Christmas tree around these beauties…
“What programs do you use to edit?” – Derrick
The short answer is Photoshop.
That’s not really entirely accurate, though. We cull and sort our images in Adobe Bridge. Then the vast majority of the editing we do is actually just tiny tweaks in Camera Raw Editor. We use presets from Visual Supply Company to get us most of the way there sometimes, but our goal is always to get the shot as close to final as we can with the initial push of the shutter.
Some shots just call for a little extra bump, and when that’s the case, we use a few subtle actions and tweaks in Photoshop. (namely, toned-down, customized actions from the Totally Rad set). The longer we’re at this, the more we try to edit less. Wow. That was a convoluted sentence. Well, basically, you can take a ride back through the past four years of our business and see how our editing style has evolved. Our goal is to provide work that looks like real life… just better.
“How do you handle turning down clients for whom you feel McGowan Images isn’t the best fit?” — Sam
We try very hard to discern this before a face-to-face meeting. We use look for key words in how people describe what style of photography they want, to see if they match what it is we do. We look for cues about how excited they seem to be about the wedding, and photography specifically. Most of the time, we can figure out early on if we’re not a good fit, and then we simply say we’re not available for the event, and send a list of referrals to people whom we feel are a better fit for the client. (For the record, we also say we’re not available for the event sometimes when it’s an event we’d LOVE to shoot, but don’t have the date open… so no one knows which is which.)
A small handful of times, we’ve met with clients and realized that we’re just not a good fit. You can tell when the rapport isn’t there with someone… conversation feels stilted, minutes seem to tick by. For us, that’s when it feels like “selling” instead of just talking about what we do. We’ve had this happen just a few times, and in every case except one, the client agreed that the feeling was “off”, and we helped them find someone that worked perfectly for them. That other case? Well… that was a weird story. Remind us to tell you in person sometime.
“How many of your clients know your other clients? On your blog and on Facebook, it seems like one big happy family!” — Amy
Yes, it DOES, doesn’t it? I just love that. I keep telling Mack we need to throw a big huge reunion party one of these days.
Almost all our clients know a past McG client. We’ve never done a cent of paid advertising, so most of our clients find us through word of mouth. Occasionally, someone will find us through their venue, or a coordinator, or even a Google Search. We’ve also had clients find us through Style Me Pretty, and other style blogs. But far and away, the vast majority of our clients find out about McG “through the grapevine”, and we’re just fine with that!
Meagan, our favorite designer, was responsible for introducing McG to two of our 2010 couples, several of our 2011 couples, several more of our 2012 couples, and especially to these two gorgeous people in Vancouver later this year. Either by Facebook or in person, she’s been one of McG’s biggest evangelists, and we can’t thank her enough.
We’ve also shot several weddings for this group of friends, and love seeing them all in a mini-reunion every year or so!
“What training do you have?” — Caty
This is the question we get most often. It’s been in every FAQ post we’ve ever done, and it still is asked. And I still don’t mind saying we’re completely self-taught. 100%. Not one photography class at all. We read books, we study, and we do lots of continuing education on the business side of things, but everything we’ve done is entirely self-explored.
This doesn’t work for everyone… we’re both innately artistic people, and Mack has a techie brain, and we enjoy reading and studying. Our personality strengths made it a good fit for us, but some people might benefit more from classes and training.
I think maybe my opinion is best explained by relating it back to the culinary world… If you eat something and love it, you thank the chef. The amount you loved the food shouldn’t change after you learn that he taught himself to cook. If anything, you should be MORE impressed. Only in the arts do we decide we’re less impressed by something when we learn the artist is lacking credentials we’ve been taught to expect.
“You said in a questions post last year that you were scaling back to 20 weddings in 2013. Are you still going to do that?”– Kelly
EEEK! You aren’t s’posed to remember things I say!
No, we’re not going to go down to 20. That’s not a financial decision — it’s a decision based on where we’re most comfortable. There’s a “butter zone” as far as our work load is concerned… a perfect place where we’re just busy enough to having the good feeling of working HARD, but not so busy that we feel like our children don’t recognize us.
Our goal is to limit ourselves to 25 WEEKENDS. That means some weekends will have more than one wedding, so we ideally end up with 28-30 weddings. In 2012, we’ve got 34 weddings on the books. That’s a bit too much, but we’re excited about all of them, so we’re not concerned.
For the record, I also said that we were going to build a house (we’re not), and shoot in Europe (I still want to!!)
“When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?” – Elizabeth
I’ve always been fascinated by art and especially the intersection of art and romance. I can’t count backwards in life to when that started to interest me. But I remember very specifically when I took a picture that MEANT something to me, just in having captured it. It was a moment that even the subject wasn’t aware of, and indeed, the girl in my portrait doesn’t even know this picture exists. I’d taken pictures before this, of course… even for pay, and especially as part of my job as a reporter. But this? This was different. It really FELT like something to me, and I’ve been chasing this feeling ever since.
This was in the spring of 2006, at Hamilton Pool outside of Austin. There’s nothing “right” about it now, looking at it with a professional eye. There’s not a thing about it that I wouldn’t tweak. But still, I love it.
That’s it for this installment! As always, if you have questions you’d like to see answered in the next “McG Answers Interesting Questions” post, just leave them in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll spill the beans!