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Tue. Dec 9, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Branding Strategy: 5 Things We've Learned

Happy Tuesday!

We are currently snuggled up in the mountains of Virginia wrapping up the final work on our brand new website (we can't WAIT to show you!!) with our insanely talented designer & friend Jennifer Olmstead! It has been so incredible to watch her work and the genius that she can come up with on the spot over and over again, and it's been amazing to watch the whole thing come together right before our eyes. We are so so so SO grateful to have found her!!

All of this talk of branding combined with a really good question we got asked the other day- what do you recommend for people who are just getting started, who might not know what they want their style & brand to be yet?- got us thinking about the top 5 things we wish we would have known to think about when we were first getting started with our business and needed to put together our first polished brand. Read on to find out what they are! :)

1. A good brand is a matter of trust. I think a lot of times, people feel like a good brand is a splurge or a luxury thing that they will do "someday." That it's not a requirement for right now. But you have to keep in mind that the website/blog is often the first experience a client is having with you. And if what they see when they get there is out of date work or a very amateur looking logo, then there is a very good chance that they will start to worry that your work will be amateur/not established too. And whether or not they can TRUST you to do a good job! A good, polished brand says to the world we're here to stay & we're taking this seriously.

2. Get a bird's eye view. When you're trying to figure out what would even feel like you for a brand, it is very easy to be inspired by what other photographers are doing in the same industry. Instead, try to get a step removed. Flip through magazines and books that inspire you & put sticky tabs on things that speak to you. Don't think about it, just go on gut reactions. Now do the same thing by doing a "scavenger hunt" on Pinterest. Let one thing lead you to another and another and just pin anything that speaks to you. Now give it a few days to walk away from it. When you come back, ask yourself what do all of these things have in common? What am I naturally drawn to without even thinking too hard about it? Chances are that's going to give you a really good place to start.

3. Go your own way, but don't go it alone Don't be afraid to do something different from everything else that's out there at the time. Stay away from questions like "what am I supposed to do? what's everyone else doing?" Because if they've already done it, then it's already been done! And the last thing you want is to box yourself in just looking like everyone else. Be willing to be the purple cow in a sea of brown ones. It's scary to be different. It's scary to step out. But there are rewards for those who are willing to do just that! At the same time, bring along people who are really good at making you look better. Just like we all say that just because a friend has a camera and can shoot your wedding, it doesn't mean they should! Well in the same way, just because you can use photo shop & make a logo, it doesn't mean you should! Be willing to go with people who are especially gifted in the area of design. If you don't have the budget to hire someone to do a custom design just yet, there are still some really GREAT resources out there of customizable website designs that will get you most the way there with beautiful design and functionality. But then you can still really make them your own with the customization abilities! One of our favorite resources for that, that we tell EVERYONE about, is the Tonic Site Shop (started by Jen & our other good friend Jeff Shipley) that has all of these incredible, editorial, luxury styles, so that you could really have a beautiful brand up and running in just a few days. If there's any chance at all that you are losing inquiries because of the first impression your current brand & website are making, then there is NO time to wait on this. After all, the inquiries you are getting (or not getting!) now will shape what your bookings & calendar are for all of next year!

4. Don't be defined by past mistakes I think a lot of times we see photographers who started with one name or brand, and because they have already invested time & money in it they have a hard time changing it or moving forward if it's simply not working. Let go of that! Be willing to trim the fat of what's not working & move forward in 2015 lean & mean! When we first started, we chose the name "Imagine Imaging" and it was kind of a disaster! :) We got everything from "Images Imaging, Imaging Imaging.....and my personal favorite, Imagine Imagining (that's really deep when you think about it....just imagine imagining!) Even though we got off to a rough start, when we realized it wasn't working we were willing to change it. Even though we had already invested in it, even though some people already knew us as that, we decided instead to let our mistakes just be these steps on the way to success. Not something that had to define us. So if you don't love your name, logo, colors, website design business cards...whatever it is, be willing to just change it and not miss a step. While you keep sprinting toward your dream for what this business could one day be!

5. Go with a platform that will allow your brand to grow with you. When we were first getting started, things like customizable websites didn't exist. So every time we wanted to change something, we had to hire a designer and start from scratch. And the second that the website was done, we were locked into it until the next time we hired a designer again. I can't tell you how THANKFUL we are to now live in a world where something like Showit exists (I've said this before, but I think it always bears repeating....we don't get ANYTHING for mentioning Showit & we still pay for our subscriptions just like everyone else! We just love them as a product!) And what we love the most about them is that as we grow with our brand, it can grow with us. So if you're first getting started and you end up choosing something that doesn't ultimately fit where you're going, there's nothing lost if you have a platform that can be changed and updated and made to go live in an instant. Trust me, it's a HUGE blessing!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Tue. Oct 28, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: Shooting in a Cluttered Room

At a recent wedding this Fall, we were shooting the getting ready at a beautiful old colonial right on the coast of Maine. It was gorgeous! And it was packed full of beautiful, pristine, clean bedrooms where everything was neat & tidy and we could have shot everything.

The only problem was that those rooms weren't getting the best light in the house. Either they were in darker corners of the property or they were on the side of the house and facing green trees which was making all the light coming in have a green tint to it as well. It just wasn't working. And so we went in search of the room in the house with the best light, which turned out to be this front room where all of the floral prep had taken place that morning. Not only was the light streaming in beautifully & directionally from the left, but it was also the part of the house that was facing the shore so we had a nice neutral white balance coming in. Score!

But the only problem with that of course was that now we had positioned ourselves in a room that had a LOT of extra stuff in it. So the challenge now became: can we shoot all of the details in this room & never give away just how cluttered it actually was?

As photographers, we find ourselves in cluttered rooms ALL of the time! Sometimes that's where the best light is, sometimes there's only one hotel room to begin with. But it happens a lot! So shooting in tight situations & making it feel like there was nothing else in the world going on in that room has become a challenge that we've had to get good at fast! Over time, we've come up with a few go to tips & we wanted to share our 5 favorite ones with you today!

1. Choose light, then location. If the light is really beautiful, then you don't need to see a lot of the rest of the room to make an image pop. And conversely, even the most beautiful background will fall flat if the quality of light is lacking. So in any situation, we are choosing our light (direction, intensity, neutral white balance) first and then our location. Even if that means we end up in a room that would seem pretty surprising to anyone else!

2. When in doubt, go closer and use a wide open lens The magic of a photograph is not pointing a camera at a situation and just pushing the button so you see everything. Anyone can do that. The real magic is looking at a situation, seeing it for what it is, and then seeing it for what it could be through your lens. Of how you can change it, and thus how the world sees it, if you just go a little closer, take a step to the right, or see a little less of the background. Right outside the frame, the rest of the room (and the world) might be chaos. But you as the photographer are the only one who will ever know that. You get to decide what makes it in & what doesn't. You get to decide what you focus on and what you don't. You get to be the one to tell the story. And sometimes just a step closer and a stop more wide open is all you need to make the difference between a story of chaos and a story of calm.

3. Use the elements of the room that are working. What I really liked about this room in particular, besides the light, was this one rustic wood chair and this very cool distressed blue floor. So I made the decision pretty quickly that I was going to shoot all the details (besides the dress) on those two surfaces, making sure to pull elements of blue into every shot so that they all tied together in the end. So in the image above you see just a little bit of blue floor peeking through the slats of the chair (same thing is true with the picture of the blue pitcher), and in the image below, I pulled some blue dishes from the house to style with the invitation suite. So now we're highlighting the elements that we like and making sure the whole detail set flows together nicely!

4. Don't be afraid to claim just one corner You don't really need the entire room to be cleaned out to make it feel like the whole thing is. Sometimes just claiming one corner and taking a few extra minutes to restore order is all you need for the whole getting ready space to feel peaceful. We already wear a LOT of hats as photographers on a wedding day (planner, friend, emergency seamstress)...don't be afraid or above adding cleaning crew to the list as well!

5. Have a vision for what you want the space to say. In this case, I decided I wanted the vibe of the getting ready photos to be rustic Maine farmhouse. So I used the rough wood chair and the scraped floors for my surfaces. And I pulled in the blue pitcher and plates to emphasize that theme. If I had instead decided to go more preppy or clean with the details, I might have used that white striped chair you see in the picture above. Or if the vibe was meant to be more elegant, I might have pulled in the velvet chair I saw in another room. The point is to choose the message that you want to send, keep it consistent, and then crop everything else that would confuse that message out of the picture. Having that clear vision means that it will all feel effortless, flow seamlessly, and make sure that no one would ever guess what kind of room you were actually working in!

We hope that helps! Happy Wednesday!

Mon. Oct 20, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

10 Ways To Keep Your Balance as a Business Owner

I think there is this thing that happens when you own your own business and become your own boss.

You go into it because you can set your own schedule and work from home and never get out of your yoga pants if you want to! Put your sensible corporate black heels on the top shelf of your's Uggs all the way for you, baby! :)

And in SO many ways, working for yourself is one of the greatest, most satisfying, exciting things you can ever do. Justin & I are SO grateful that we get to work together and travel together and build things together and go on this adventure together every single day.

But owning your own business can also take its toll. Spending too many days in a row in yoga pants can take its toll. Having work hours that blur into one another and countless hours at a computer- your desk covered with empty coffee mugs and Lara bar wrappers- can take. its. toll.

Not having a regular grocery routine. Not spending our Saturdays like normal people do. Not having a regular pay check that gets deposited every Friday like clockwork.

And the fact is, somewhere around your fourth day in a row in yoga pants and your 117th episode of the Law & Order SVU marathon you've been putting on while you catch up on can start to feel not so human anymore.

And that's the catch 22. We started this business because we want freedom and adventure and to break the rules of normalcy. And all of that is amazing.

But somewhere in there, I think at our most basic human level, we crave some structure & routine & to feel normal too.

We've been learning this slowly but surely, and over time we've figured out a few things that we can do every day to give us back some of that normalcy but still allow us to be the great adventurers we want to be too! Here are a few of our favorite ones, in no particular order.

1. Make your bed every day. It sounds silly and small, I know. But a few things happen when you start out the day this way. First, you feel like you've accomplished something right off the bat. And that productivity is's a small win that spurs you on to get even more stuff done. Second, it brings order to the room. And that order is calming. Which is a great way to head into the day. And finally, I just find that I sleep better at night when I'm crawling into a bed that has been made rather than a tangle of sheets and pillows. And that sets me up for a good day the following day.

2. Clear the clutter. Speaking of order creating calm, if I ever find myself feeling anxious & distracted, 9 times out of 10 it's because our work area/house is a mess. And it's a mess because we're actually here 24 hours a day, unlike people who go off to a day job. If I will just take 30-45 minutes to go through the house & do a quick straighten up before I try to tackle any work, then suddenly I feel like a) I've accomplished another thing and b) we are people who actually have it together and now I can accomplish anything. Even better: try doing this quick clean at night before you eat dinner/take off for the night. It will make dinner more relaxing & you can wake up to a clean house/work space rather than having this on your list first thing.

3. Have a morning routine One that doesn't involve email! Before I ever delve into email or the work of the day, I like to start my mornings for me. I wake up around 7am and put coffee on (this in itself is such a relaxing ritual for me with grinding the beans & prepping the coffee maker). I cozy up with a blanket, sip my coffee, do a little bible reading, put on some good music, and start my day slow. When you start the day in email, you start the day with a million people pulling you in every direction before you've even had the chance to wake up. And that sense of being spread too thin carries throughout the day. Starting the day for yourself, fills up the tank so you can be more for other people. This morning routine is a relatively new change for me & I can tell you that it's making a TON of difference!

4. Write your "Win the Day" list the night before. The "Win the Day" list is something I've been using for years now that is basically the 3-5 things you want to accomplish in a day (as opposed to a super long to do list that no one ever finishes). And even if nothing else gets done, if you can finish those three to five things, then you can call that day a win. But something that I've been realizing as I do this, is that if I will sit down and write out tomorrow's list the night before it does two things: 1) first I know exactly what I need to work on when I sit down at my desk the next morning and 2) it helps to calm my brain as I should be turning off for the night. Writing it down gets it out of my head!

5. Take breaks throughout the day. Go on a walk with your dog, drink your afternoon coffee in quiet rather than on the go, sit somewhere and close your eyes and breathe. Study after study after STUDY has shown that regular breaks throughout the day make you so much more productive. And it helps you to feel like you're not chained to your computer.

6. Shower & get ready. When we were at the Pursuit 31 Conference this year, I had a bit of an a-ha moment: I was getting up & getting showered AND getting ready every day. And I felt a million times better. When I work from home on the other hand, I'm (usually) showering but then I'm skipping the getting ready part because I'm just going to be working from home. So why put in the effort? And that has meant a LOT of days in yoga pants and buns on top of my head. And I realized that even though that sounds amazing, it was actually taking a toll on me. I just started to feel blah all the time and that's how I was approaching every day. When we ran out to grab lunch or run to the bank, that's how I was approaching other people too. When I shower & actually get ready, I feel better and more productive. And then I act that way too.

7. Download. On a very regular basis, sit down and write out everything that's swirling around your brain. Keep it somewhere safe like a notebook dedicated to just this. This way your brain will know that it's somewhere safe and it won't try to keep track of everything, which keeps it constantly racing.

8. Have designated days Have set days when you do your grocery shopping & run errands. Have set days when you do all of your meetings. Have days when you sit home & edit uninterrupted. This will foster focus in your life. And help eliminate those days where you feel like you just ran one place to another and never really got anything done.

9. Keep a notebook with you I pretty much always have a notebook with me in my purse. It never fails that as we're going somewhere or running to pick up something or grabbing lunch, suddenly my brain starts spinning with a hundred things I need to do. Having the notebook means I can write it down & then forget about it for the time being rather than trying to remember it all.

10. Shut down for the night. We like to have a couple of rituals, if you will, to signal to our brains that we're shutting down for the night. I'll shut my office door or Justin will turn out the light in his, I'll light candles, I'll turn on music for us to cook to, we'll have a plan for what movie we're going to watch that night or where we're going to go. Having that ritual & that reward to look forward to makes us work harder when we should be to get everything done & then it helps our brains to shut down for the night and actually feel rested when it's time to turn off.

We hope this helps if even in some small way!! Here's to chasing the adventure...AND feeling like you have a life!

** So tell us, which one of these 10 are YOU going to try this week?? Here's to finding the balance!

Fri. Oct 17, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: 5 Ways to Get Published More

On Tuesday, Justin & I were SO lucky to be invited as two of the featured guest speakers at the Two Bright Lights workshop that is going around the country right now! We have been using TBL for years now as a way to streamline our submissions workflow to magazines & blogs and have everything in one place and we absolutely LOVE it!

So we were super honored when they invited us in to speak not only to the photographer's point of view on getting published more & what shots to go for, but also from the publications side of things now that we are also editors with our own two wedding blogs The Black Tie Bride & The Well Groomed Groom. Those two blogs have just exploded in ways we could have never imagined this year, and they are becoming a bigger & bigger part of who we are now! The other day I was introduced first as the Editor in Chief of The Black Tie Bride, and that was SO crazy since for so long I've been introduced as a wedding photographer first! It is definitely an exciting season for us & we are SO excited to see where it all goes from here! We're just super grateful for all of it and I think it's crazy the places that life takes you!

But anyway, back to the event! :) I think it was such a cool place to be in, to be able to see both sides of things at once. Both to know the shots that we, as editors, are looking for, but also to know as photographers all the challenges that go in to getting those shots. For example, some of the other editors who were speaking (there were some AMAZING other folks there that night including Bridget Clegg from The Knot, Kunbi Odubogun from Aisle Perfect, Maggie Lord from Rustic Wedding Chic, and Ragan Kensington from Two Bright Lights ) had mentioned that they love room shots before the guests get in there & pictures of the escort cards before any of them are taken! We totally agree! And we also understand, as photographers, how tough those shots can be to get if the room isn't finished until a minute before guests are let in or the escort card table is left visible to guests before the ceremony (what IS it with guests wanting to grab those cards up as soon as possible?!)

So it was really fun to both speak to what editors are looking for & also to give some practical tips from the photography side of things on how to get them! I've included 5 of my favorite things we went over below & we hope it helps both in approaching the day AND getting you featured more! And if you haven't been submitting to publications yet because you feel like you just don't have the time, definitely check out Two Bright Lights as a way to streamline everything!

1. Match your Messenger Rather than tying yourself in knots and pretending that you & your work are something that they aren't just to get published somewhere, instead figure out who you are and what you want your work to stand for and then submit to wedding publications that fall in line with THAT! Remember that one of the best advantages of getting published is that it will send brides your way, but if you are constantly trying to get published somewhere that doesn't really stand for what you want your work to stand for, then they aren't going to be sending you YOUR kind of brides. List three words you want your work to be known for & then seek out the wedding publications where you would use those same three words to describe them!

2. Think of your submission as an overall collective first. I can tell you from the editor's point of view that I am ALWAYS getting my first impression of a submission by looking at the overall gallery as a collective (kind of like a pinterest board) in thumbnail view. That means that even if you have a couple of killer individual images in there, it's still most likely not going to get accepted unless I feel like overall this is a really strong submission. So what makes a strong overall collective? a) make sure you tell an overarching story of the day and give me extra coverage of emotional/candid moments, details, and portraits of the couple. b) make sure that the images as a collective are processed in the same, clean way. We see it all the time where none of the black & whites match because a slightly different action was used on each one or where the color balance is all over the place. Consistency is key. And c) don't water down your submission with sub-par images just to show more. Curate your work & show your best stuff! More is not always better and in fact if, as I glance through that overall collective, I see too many images that are a no then it waters down that whole submission and makes it very unlikely that it will be accepted.

3. Remove Visual Noise. Bridget in particular did a GREAT job of talking about this and showing examples of how a clean background makes for a much stronger image! Remember that magazines in particular & sometimes blogs are looking for images with clean negative space so that they have the potential of adding copy (text) to them. Also we're just more attracted to clean, simple images because they aren't as confusing or distracting. So that means having the time to get in there and take out distracting elements like the salt & pepper shakers, butter, or waiter trays in the background. In general, try to shoot straight across the details so that the background falls off even more with shallow depth of field. And don't forget to shoot both collectives of the details (i.e. an entire table top), but also clean, individual shots of details such as an individual shot of the centerpiece without the table number, an individual shot of the table number, an individual shot of the menu. That's because the editor might love everything about the table except for one component & having those individual options will still allow them to be able to feature the whole wedding!

4. Make time to shoot & style the details. But as a photographer, I know what you're thinking! "I usually get five minutes to shoot the details, when am I going to have time to do all that?" The answer is Justin & I have learned to make time by educating our brides early and letting them know that we need about 45 minutes to shoot the details and that if getting published is a priority for them, this is a must! And then we also work to educate them about keeping guests out of the reception until cocktail hour is over. We even have a place on our "info sheet" where we ask "Will the reception area be closed off to guests during cocktail hour" and then in parentheses (so we can get great shots of all those details before they come in!) Just this one simple change has made a WORLD of difference in us getting time to shoot the details the way we want to! You can find our info sheet by clicking HERE & feel free to use it for your own couples too!

5. Avoid stiff or cheesy posing. Finally, as I was writing this talk I had sort of an "a-ha" moment about something that influences editors that they might not even be aware of and that is stiff, cheesy posing. For us at The Black Tie Bride, this is definitely something we filter out because we are photographers ourselves and one of our guiding words is "authentic." But I think across the board, editors are paying more attention to the posing than anyone would think because they've come to realize that the really good photographers out there (who are getting & submitting the really good weddings they want to be featuring) tend to have the much or authentic, organic posing going for them. There have been a number of weddings that we have turned down at the BTB because even though the wedding was a very elegant day at an iconic venue, the whole day felt cheesy because of how the posing was handled. It makes a HUGE difference! So when in doubt go for more authentic, natural looking poses and the best way to do that is to add MOVEMENT into what you're asking them to do.

As always, we hope that helped! Feel free to leave any questions (or just say HI) in the comments below!

Have an amazing weekend you guys!

Thu. Oct 9, 2014 by Mary    Pancake Sessions

Pancake Session: The Benefits of The First Look

For the longest time, Justin & I didn't push one way or another on whether or not our couples would be doing a First Look with their wedding day timeline.

It's always been really important to us and one of our guiding goals on the wedding day that we "tell the story without becoming too much a part of it." And so for the longest time, we shied away from talking too much about the First Look even though we knew that it would make the day flow SO much more smoothly because we didn't want to recommend something simply because it would make our lives easier.

But then we started realizing what a HUGE difference it makes in the kind of day our couples were having. It was completely night and day and the difference between a rushed, stressed out, no time for photos, missing half the party to play catch up and missing all the good food at cocktail hour kind of day.....and a relaxed, fun, get three times as many photos, family & bridal party photos are actually fun, spend more of the day together, enjoy every second of your party kind of day!

And that was what made us change our mind about recommending- even pushing for- the First Look. That as the experts and having seen hundreds of these days happen, we KNOW what a difference this can make. Finally this year, we put together the top 7 reasons that a First Look makes the entire day better and when our couples are on the fence about whether or not to do one, we send that list over and they almost always opt to see each other beforehand....the biggest reason being, they hadn't realized just how much it impacts the entire day! (**Note that if after seeing the list, they still decide to wait until the ceremony to see each other, we always respect their decision! We just like to make sure they have all the info before deciding!)

I know a lot of us realize how amazing a First Look makes the whole day go, but it can be hard putting that into words to explain to your clients when they haven't had the benefit of seeing it go both ways. So we are going to be sending out our full list of the 7 things we tell all of our couples now in favor of the First Look that does the work of explaining it for us, this afternoon in our next J&M newsletter! We've included a sample from the list below & just be sure to click "receive our email newsletter" at the bottom of this post to get signed up and receive all 7 reasons later today!

4. It makes the family photos go three times faster! When we do the family photos before the ceremony, we can usually crank them out in about 15 minutes using our "family photo football" approach. But when we have to wait to do the family photos until after the ceremony, once all the guests are there & there are plenty of distractions from that and cocktail hour going on, these photos can take up to 3-4 times longer usually taking up all of cocktail hour. The reason for that, is that with so much else going on and so many more people to talk to, some family members always end up wandering away either to talk to some one or help take care of something. And that holds every combination that they're in up. Usually what happens next is that someone goes to get them, and now we're missing two people! And so on! Add to that fact that you can actually see the party going on without you, and now not only are the family photos actually taking three times as long to do....but they FEEL like they're taking 10 times as long because all you want to do is get to the party & start enjoying your day! We can tell you from years of experience that this leads to a lot of tension and snapping at family members on what should be such a happy day. When we can get these photos done before the ceremony, everyone is present, focused on the task at hand, and we can all actually all have FUN with the photos!

Happy Thursday friends!

**Note that if you're interested in learning more about how we run a whole wedding day including the timeline, family photos, managing the bridal party, portraits in a time crunch, dark churches/receptions & more, we have only SIX spots remaining in our last Walk Through a Wedding workshop of the year taking place on November 5th in New Haven, CT. Click HERE to reserve your spot today & be sure to use the code "EARLYBIRD" to grab $150 off our seat!!

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