Justin & I are off today to do maybe one of the coolest things we'll ever get to do in our lives, with much thanks to our beautiful bride Jil. But before we go and since this is our very last post of 2011, we wanted to leave you with something extra good. So we decided it would be this great idea to pick 11 images that have defined our 2011. Yea, until we had to actually pick them! Put it this way, our first round of narrowing got it down to 160. And then much healthy debate ensued. :) But it's all good, because what it made us realize is that 2011 was blessed with more beauty, love, light, friendship and trust than two people could ever deserve. To all of our 2011 clients, seriously....you complete us. You had us at hello. And in all honesty, you should know that it is because of you that we are able to do what we do. To live out the biggest, hairiest most audacious dreams possible. :) And to know that they always started with love. There are no words to thank you enough for that. But we thank you just the same. And our wish for you is a lifetime of love & happiness.
So much love,
1. You allowed us in. In 2011, we were allowed in to people's lives in a way that we never have been before, and that was especially true of our couples. From being trusted to be the one there when the tears started to fall, to being asked to fix the dress or the one turned to to give advice on how the day should go, to being the only witnesses to the start of a life together....this has been the year for unconditional trust. And I can't begin to fathom the words that would fully express what an honor and a gift that has been. But this image of Anna below says it all for me.
2. A return to classic. This year, whether it was a beach, a barn or a grand ballroom, we saw our clients take a return to simple, elegant and classic. To black ties and red roses and lace veils and heirloom jewelry. To something that will stand the test of time. And we couldn't have loved it more!
3. Personal, authentic, organic details. In the same vein, we saw our couples working even harder on their details to make sure that everything that was there felt like them. That it was quality over quantity, and that everything there added to the story of the day. I think the image below of Kristen & Stephen also represents a softer feel to our portraits that was new in 2011 and a pairing of those authentic details with the people who worked so hard on them to help tell the whole story of the day.
4. Finding joy out of sorrow. In 2011, we shot Lara & Peter's wedding after finding out that morning during the getting ready that my Grandma Goldie had passed away. But what I think is most remarkable about this story is that it shows that our couples are so much more than our clients....they are in the truest sense of the word, our friends. Lara, who had also lost her mom and was missing her so much, hugged me, we cried together a little, and together we determined to find joy. And when I look at this picture below, that is what I see. Joy from the two people who are in it. And joy from the person lucky enough to take it.
5. Evocative. In 2011, Justin & I worked really hard on defining & refining both our Why and the words we want our work to stand for. We've posted before that we selected as those words AEIOU. Authentic, Emotional/Enduring, Intimate, Organic, and Universal. But as the year went on, somewhere along the line we decided we wanted to replace "Emotional" (looking at an image and seeing the people in it were feeling something) with "Evocative" (looking at an image and actually feeling something yourself). This image below taken at Malika & Arjun's wedding by Justin in the pouring rain does that for me. It makes me feel something. The rain on my skin, the electricity in the air, the beat of the drum. And in that instant I'm taken right back to that day.
6.The Third Angle. This year Julia has grown as a photographer in waves & ways we couldn't have imagined. The stuff that she's getting simply blows my mind. Not only because it is fantastic imagery (which it is) but because it is simply things that we never would have gotten without her. Hers is not just double coverage of moments we're already getting. She sees the world differently, and that makes the story complete. So when I say "third" angle, please don't mistake that as a ranking. It's more like the third leg of the tripod....without which, it would fall over. :)
7. The Why in Action I wrote an entire blog post about this one, but this year I wanted to push myself on our Why to create even more authentic images and to "tell the story without being a part of it." This image below came about from the decision to be quiet and shoot instead of immediately jumping in to direct. And it makes my heart happy because of it.
8. No Dream is Too Big For Dreaming In 2011, we saw some of the biggest dreams we ever had for our business come true. And I'm talking about the kind of dreams you feel silly for even saying out loud. So you whisper them quickly when no one is looking, and then laugh at just how ridiculous you can be. But if there's one thing this year taught us, it's that there is no dream too big for dreaming. Because maybe, just maybe, they'll come true. And wouldn't we feel really silly if we missed out on that? With so much love, thanks & appreciation to Kim & Steve Slaton for making one of our biggest dreams ever come true this year. We love you guys!
9. You don't have to do it the way everyone else does. I think so often, it can feel like there are these rules. A way things ought to be done. Because that's how they've always been done. Or the way someone else said they should be done. And for sure, some rules are there for good reason. But there just comes a point when you have to listen to your own voice. Whether that's on a website v. a blog, to first look or not to first look, to outsource or insource or do it yourself. Posing, pricing, packaging....you don't have to do it the way everyone else does. This year we shot our first "maternity session" and we decided instead to treat it like a portrait of a beautiful woman who just happened to be pregnant. We did it our own way....and we got some of our favorite images ever because of it.
10. The introduction of editorial. We got some really, really big lights. And they're rockin our cotton socks off. I think it's safe to say, this is just the beginning.
11. Iconic The other adjustment to our AEIOU that was made this year, is that in addition to the "Intimate" in the letter I we also wanted to add the word "Iconic." This image that Justin grabbed of Mel & Geoff as they sign their marriage license is both of those things for me. It is intimate....and it is iconic. And I kind of want to wallpaper our entire house in it. But that's probably a different letter altogether. :)
Cheers to an amazing year! This was one of the hardest things we've ever had to do, narrowing down to just 11. But like Justin told me, next year should be easier....because next year we get 12!
"Unhappy with Now? You can choose to be better or wallow in worse." -Carrie Wilkerson, the Barefoot Executive
I saw this quote a couple days ago from Carrie Wilkerson, the Barefoot Executive. Carrie is a very inspiring small business strategist, and she also happens to be from Texas. So the advice she gives tends to be really no-nonsense, straight-shooting, and just has this way of cutting right to the heart of the matter. And then shaking you to your very core. In the absolute best way possible. :) "You don't like where you are? Good, then go do something about it." And I LOVE that about her.
As the year winds down I know a lot of us are turning our attention to what 2011 brought us, and what we want to be & do better in 2012. We talked quite a bit in our J&M LIVE chat about "what worked, what didn't & what's next." But goals, resolutions, bucket lists, 101 in 1001....whatever you call it, this is the time of year for hope. To celebrate the closing of one year and to look forward to the next with what Oprah called "another chance for us to get it right." I love that. The prospect of a blank slate for us to keep doing more of what worked and to set about to fix what didn't. To choose to be better rather than continuing in worse.
For the rest of this week and into the new year as you think about what you want to change in 2012, I'm going to challenge each of us (myself included) to not merely hope that things get better, but to use this time to actually set about creating and writing out the workflows & systems that will cause them to be. Better. Stronger. Faster. Freer. More Remarkable. Because hope is a great thing....but it only carries us so far. And our dreams will only work if we do.
So in the interest of getting things started, we've put together our top 7 tips for Creating Systems that Stick. In the hope that 2012 is the best year yet. For all of us.
1. Look for the bottlenecks. Maybe one of the hardest parts of creating systems in your business or life, is just figuring out what needs a system in the first place. And the more we've been implementing systems in our lives, the more I can tell you the answer is pretty much everything. But where do you even get started? To figure that out, I want you to take a look at your business and your life and ask yourself: where are the bottlenecks? Where do things tend to get backed up time after time? These are your problem areas. For us personally, that tends to be laundry and meal planning. We always have way too much laundry and never enough food. :) And in our business this year it was data transfer. A major bottleneck for us was just in the time it took putting things on to drives or burning discs. And from the constant wear & tear, the problem was compounded when our computers, drobo & disc drives all slowed way down. But now that we've identified it, we can do something about it.
2. Eliminate. The very next step should be to ask yourself if this bottleneck or problem area is something you should even be doing in the first place. Is it actually moving you or your business forward? Is it necessary? Or is it just something that you've always done & continue doing out of habit. Use this time to eliminate outdated or inefficient steps. For us, this is going to mean upgrading to drives with thunderbolt connections for the fastest data transfer and eliminating discs (replacing them with customized flash drives and PASS). Maybe for you it's eliminating the proof book step when the online proofing works just fine. Or narrowing your four part wedding posts down to just one of only your very best stuff. Whatever it is, commit that this will be the year where you only take steps that move you forward.
3. Automate. Once you've eliminated all the bottlenecks that aren't even really necessary or helpful to your life or business, now look to the ones that can be automated. Yes, they still need to be done but do you need to be the one doing them? A prime example of this for us is using Shoot Q to send out our info sheet one month before the wedding. This is an absolutely necessary step that has been so great for our business and serving our clients on the wedding day, but that doesn't mean that I have to be the one physically sending the email every time. Shoot Q gives me the capability to input that questionnaire and it will schedule & send it out for me. Amazing! :) Going along with automation is of course outsourcing. Yes it needs to be done, but does it need to be done by you? Is that actually the best use of your talents? If it's not then it's a waste of your best resources. Commit to only keep the things you absolutely love doing (for me, blogging) or absolutely have to be there for (like for us, shooting).
4. Write it out. Now that you've determined whether you're going to keep it or hand it off to someone else, either way create a workflow and write it out. It sounds really silly, but we have a workflow for how our prints get packaged up and sent out. Brown box, tissue paper in, prints, tissue paper sealed, card added, box sealed, teal ribbon tied slightly off center, white uline envelope, sealed with J&M packaging tape, J&M shipping label on the front. It's completely OCD, but it allows us to hand off that area of our workflow and still ensure that our level of attention and standard for our brand is being represented. Even for the things we keep like blogging wedding images, there is a very clear protocol that we follow every time. And having such a specific sequence of events allows us to look for micro bottlenecks within our workflows. So that, for example, we could discover that by merely replacing Bridge with Photo Mechanic we could shave three hours off every job. Whether it's your grocery list or your album workflow, write it out and have a way to track it.
5. Bundle Now look for ways you can bundle tasks. We, for example, don't make a run to the post office every time we have a package to go out. Instead, we create a mail pile and have one big mail run once or twice a week. But we now know we need to apply that same logic to our grocery shopping. We tend to get very overwhelmed in the store trying to put meals together on the fly, so we'll just buy enough to get us through the next day or two and then we're right back in the store with the same problem a few days later. Or worse yet, we get discouraged by the empty refrigerator and end up spending massive amounts of money eating out all the time. That's a major bottleneck for us, so we know we need to write it out (meal plan for the week and come prepared with a written list) and bundle (shop once for the whole week rather than making a bunch of smaller runs).
6. Make it easy on yourself. Remove as many barriers to success as possible. If, for example, one of your goals for being better in 2012 is getting fit but you've always struggled with getting started, maybe you don't want to sign up for a gym twenty minutes away. I'm just speaking from personal experience here. For about a year we had a fancy gym membership that was costing us $70 a month for the two of us, but it was twenty minutes away. And there was a starbucks in between. :) It was basically the most expensive cup of coffee. Ever. Because we never made it farther than that. So we ditched the membership, and I instead invested in a treadmill that sits right beside my desk staring me in the face every day. Forcing me to do something about it. Now I know the treadmill isn't for everyone, but the point is just to remove as many steps as possible that tend to get you off track.
7. Make time for it. The final tip is to carve out specific, focused time for each thing you want to work on. When I go into a day flying by the seat of my pants, I am chaotic, scattered, and I get very little done. On the other hand, when I spend just five minutes the night before writing out specific tasks for the next day and designating time to work on them, I get about ten times as much done and I end the day feeling like I'm getting it right. This is what Stephen Covey calls "Quadrant II" planning. Only he recommends that you do it for an entire week at a time. And I couldn't agree more. Set aside one morning or evening a week to do your grocery shopping. Know that every morning at this time you'll work out. Plan that if you shoot a wedding on Saturday, you will have Sunday off to rest, manage your life on Monday, edit on Tuesday and blog it on Wednesday. If you want to start working on that personal project, carve out two hours on Thursday afternoon and devote all of your focus to that. The point is, when you carve out specific time for your to-do's not only does it all get done....but you actually find yourself with free time to just dream and breathe and be.
And that sounds like a whole lot of Better. Stronger. Faster. Freer. More Remarkable to me! Cheer to 2012!
PS: If one of the things you want to make better in 2012 is your branding, I wanted to let you know about the branding workshop we're going to be putting on at our place in CT on January 14, 2012. It's called the J&M Brand Camp, and basically it's a one day intensive for anybody struggling with finding their brand & anyone who wants to make 2012 the year they finally create a brand that feels like THEM. We'll start off the day talking about what real "brand power" is and how to put that to work in your own business. Then we'll work with every single attendee one on one on honing your personal brand and evaluating/ giving feed back on your online presence & portfolio. The seats will be very limited to make sure each attendee gets as much personal attention as possible & leaves with a clear cut next action plan for putting that brand into place. If you want to sign up, just fill out the shopping cart below. We will be taking a few out of town attendees who can Skype into the workshop. But hurry, there are just a few seats left to grab!
It was almost exactly six years ago. Six years ago next month.
I was about to begin the final semester of my final year of law school. Justin had gotten hired over the break for a quick photography job back in his college town of Rochester, NY photographing cookies, and he asked if I wanted to come along. And I said hey where there are cookies, that's where I belong. So we packed up his Volkswagen Passat and went to Rochester... in January. If you are not familiar with Rochester in January, let me be the first to tell you that it snows 47 feet in Rochester...in January. The temperatures hit somewhere around negative 212 degrees, and your eyelashes freeze directly to your eyebrows. In Rochester. In January.
While we were there, and because we were dirt poor, we stayed with the owners of this cookie company for three days. For three days, we got to see life first hand as an entrepreneur. To see what it looked like to work for yourself, from home, doing what you love. And...it was intoxicating. So intoxicating in fact, that I came back and wrote this blog post about it:
We talked about a life where we would both work from home. A home with a fireplace and candles burning and cool citrus basil lotion at the sink. And tea. There would be a lot of tea. Peppermint and Sleepy Time. And cinnamon apple in the fall. There would be cranberry walls, and a big silver "M" that hung over our dining room table with star garland wrapped around the centerpiece. There would be quilts and blankets and wedding pictures in silver frames. And a little golden fur ball to make it all complete. And we...well, we would be happy.
It was almost exactly six years ago. Six years ago next month.
A few days ago on Christmas Eve, Justin & I sat on the couch staring into a roaring fire. And all at once it hit me. Like the signs had always been there, but I had been too blind to see them. I looked around the room and asked Justin, what do you see? And he looked at me like he didn't have a clue what I was talking about, and why would he really. But before he could take the champagne away, I said I'll tell you what I see. I see a fireplace and candles burning and a big silver "M" on that desk over there. And maybe the lotion at the sink is meyer lemon not citrus basil, and the walls are silver sage not cranberry. But there are quilts and blankets and wedding pictures in silver frames. And a not so little golden fur ball to make it all complete. I see that somewhere along the line when we weren't even looking, every dream we had for what this life would look like has happened.
And we almost didn't even notice.
As you go out and you chase these dreams, it may take longer than you had planned. (As Lady Gaga would say, six WHOLE years). Chase them anyway. You may get off track. You may take the long way around. You may have to go all the way across the country to remember that you wanted to be home. The dream itself might change. The list you keep may grow. But remember why you got started in the first place. And just keep coming back to that. Because no matter how far off it feels right now, one day very soon you may just blink....open your eyes. And realize you have everything you ever wanted staring you in the face. And trust me, you don't want to miss that. Because that's when you can look back and say (Lady Gaga take us home...)
There's just something, something about the chase.
Last night, Justin's extended family gathered in New Jersey for dinner and a present exchange that could have put Santa himself out of business. After the packages had all been opened and the wrapping paper was all appropriately strewn about the room, we assembled ourselves around the table and slid the lid off a box of Cranium. We muddled our way through the rules, half making them up as we went along, and then twelve people set about to making total fools of themselves. The best kind of fools, really. The belly laugh, shouting, one-upping, smack-talking, oh-snapping, no you di'int, good natured, if only slightly a little competitive, kinds of fools of ourselves. And we loved every minute of it.
As an only child, I looked around the room at this big, adopted family of mine and realized how much I love each and every one of them. That Justin's family had indeed become my family in every sense of the word. (We'll, y'know except for the one that would make it illegal.:) And I guess it dawned on me that 'family' isn't just limited to the one you're born into. If you're really lucky, it grows and grows over a lifetime. To all the people who come into your life, and change it for the better.
I know it might sound really silly, but that's kind of what I feel like we have with all of you. Every day that you come in to our lives, you change it for the better. By listening. By caring. By bearing witness. By not only reading about our lives, but sharing yours with us as well. It's a gift. It really is. And I never want to forget that. When I see your names pop up, I feel like I'm about to grab coffee with an old friend that I've known forever. The kind of friend that you have a shorthand language with. And you can pick up right where you left off. You laugh with us and cry with us, and you're there to cheer us on. And you allow us in to cheer for you too. And I guess I just want to say thank you for being those kinds of friends.
The kind of friends that really...feel like family. Just know that now & always, we are so so thankful for you.
I hope you all had a very merry!
love love love,