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How My Business Evolved….Finding My “Niche” ….. {Northern Virginia Professional Photographer}

How to be different?  I struggled with this in so many ways.  Most people think a photo is a photo – and they don’t look beyond the person in it that they love.  Everyone rushes to compliment someone on a new photo on social media, and no one will ever say – “hey, you aren’t in focus”, or “what happened to your skin – you look orange (or green, or blue)”.   Or how about “what’s up with the big shadow behind you?”  No one ever says anything not complimentary about the technical stuff in a photo.

That’s good, and bad.

Good because we should all be nicer to each other.

Bad because it means people don’t necessarily SEE the difference in a good portrait, vs. a “good enough” candid.  Candids are great – fun, energetic, and spur of the moment.  Capturing true emotion, and more.  But most often, if not taken professionally, they have a few components that are lacking – real focus, backgrounds that are distracting, contrast not set properly, white balance adjusted for real skin tones, and more.  Again, for a candid & just for fun shot, great.  For a portrait, no….not really good.

Ok, so differentiating myself from the pack was #1, I really had to prove I had some skills that made my images better than the average person’s candid.

I worked hard not just to take good images (posing, composition, exposure), but to come up with a way to process them so they would be beautiful on line, AND in print.  Finding good labs and color calibrating to their machines was important, but making sure what I did in my post processing (what used to be “developing” in the film world) was adding to, and not detracting from, the image.  I have a 7 step process that every image goes through when I’m finalizing it for print or digital use.  Basically it’s a custom action I wrote for Photoshop that I run on each image after I hand retouch any blemishes, hair issues, lessen wrinkles, fix any distracting elements I missed in a background, etc.  Once I’ve finalized an image, it then goes back to my sorting software and the process goes from there to print.

It took me two years of trying different combinations of software, reading, learning from other photographers, and trial and error to finalize HOW I would finish images in a way I was happy with the end results.   Once that was done, I knew I had the “back end” done.

Now, I had to find a way to make sure everyone saw something different about me, and my business offerings.  Sure I could come up with a different session type – but someone else would just copy it when I did.  I could come up with a clever marketing scheme, but again, it could be copied.  Even taking great images and finalizing them well, of course others can do that if they put the work into it.

So…I started thinking.  What else could make me different?  I found myself running around a public park one day and getting more and more frustrated because there were so many other photographers there.  It was harder for me to go “on location” and more work too…plus it was a timing issue with having to allow for drive time to, and from, each session.

Why not try to localize my sessions?  Hmmm…I lived on 20 acres in the middle of Round Hill.  It’s a drive out for most folks…so I had to become a “destination”.  Would people come all the way out here?

Yup, they would.  And they did.  Of course, I did make it worth their while.  I priced attractively to get people to come out, and see what I offered.  I added, changed, and improved the areas I use here to make it more attractive.  I started calling it a Portrait Park.  And so it began…..

But along with the outdoor area, I also had the indoor studio.  My unfinished basement indoor studio.  Actually, looking at the photos of what it was, and how I had to use it, scares me now.  I am blown away that people not only came, but that they stayed, and that they CAME BACK.

Seriously, I worked hard to make it functional, and have a lot of options in the indoor studio too.  But the space was NOT attractive.

So after 7 years of that, Marty and I decided to really jump off a cliff and build a dream studio in the basement.  We hired a great local firm that listened, we moved through the hurdles we had to, and now I have this amazing space that everyone that walks into says…”WOW”.  (I love that)  Yup, 2000 square feet and we use every inch of it really really well!  And it’s so pretty down there….

So how am I really different?  The Indoor studio, the Portrait Park…the staying power of 10 years…the willingness to invest a ton of money into this business…the “push through the hard parts” mentality…the dreamer in me….good friends who supported me, clients who continued to come back…my kids and my husband who never doubted me (without whom I definitely would have given up years ago).

Any or all of the above I guess.

Am I really that different?  I don’t know.  Anyone could probably do what I do.  But I am me, and I’m really proud of what I’ve done here.  (when I let myself sit back and think about it all).  It was hard work, and easy to just quit many times.  It was expensive.  It was mentally taxing.  It was, and is, physically taxing.  But when I’m out there spreading mulch, or digging a hole for a new plant, I remind myself that the parts of this that aren’t as much fun make the rest of it so much better.

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