Being True to You with Sal Cincotta
The concept of “being true to you” can be confusing to photographers and artists, especially ones just starting out. What does it all mean? What is the meaning of life? Don’t worry, I wouldn’t put that kind of pressure on you, but most artists struggle with their identity as an artist. When we are just getting started, we are chasing affirmation, approvals, happy faces, satisfied clients. What we may fail to realize is that all those things can be temporary if we are not true to ourselves and our vision.
While we don’t know enough about who we are as artists in the beginning, we have to at least be aware of that artistic identity crisis, or we run the risk of spending our entire career trying to be something we are not and never will be.
So what does it even mean to be true to you? Here is some advice on how to find out.
What do you love?
Sure, we all love photography. That goes without saying. But what do you love about it? What is it that gets you excited? When you think about going out to shoot, what do you dream of?
That is where you have to start your journey.
Every day, I wake up looking forward to going to work. I love what I do. I can’t say it enough. I truly love it. I have the best job in the world. I get to create something for people, and those people pay me for it. What could be better? Nothing.
So, what do I love? I love weddings and high school seniors. That is my passion. Equally as important is knowing what you don’t love. I don’t love (hate would be a stronger word) baby photography. Not a thing I like about it. (To those out there who do it and do it well, wow! You are an incredible talent and you have the patience of a saint.) Knowing what you don’t love is equally as important. It’s part of the process. With this understanding, I know where to invest my time and energy. Why chase clients in a niche that just doesn’t work for me? It makes no sense. So why do so many photographers and businesspeople do this?
Know what you love and go after it with everything you’ve got.
Define your audience.
Once you know what you love to do, the next important thing is to connect with those who see the world the same way. What am I talking about? Who is your client? If I decided I love baby photography, I would not define my client as a 17-year-old high school senior. This seems like common sense, but I meet so many business owners who can’t figure out this part of it.
Ask yourself these questions:
Who is my target client? How old are they? Are they male or female? Do they have children? Where do they shop? What brands to they lust after? What brands resonate with your clients? This helps you understand consumer behavior and what marketing will motivate them.
Once you understand who your potential client is, you are armed with the information you need to start marketing to this group of like-minded people.
Market to your audience.
Marketing? Sal, have you lost your mind? I have to actually do work for my clients to find me? Uh, yeah, Captain Obvious! Your clients don’t know you exist. And the competition is fierce. So, you’d better get your head out of the sand and implement a marketing plan.
We need to home in on our potential clients. If your target audience lived on an island without the Internet, would you run a Facebook campaign to connect with them? Sounds utterly ridiculous, doesn’t it? As it should. But so many businesses just make those kinds of rookie mistakes. And then they’re completely confused when the phone doesn’t ring. It’s never going to ring if your marketing efforts don’t connect with your target.
We need to understand their behavior. Where do they shop? What do they watch on TV? What do they do for leisure? What is their income? How much of it is discretionary?
Now it’s time to figure out how to reach them. It’s about more than just understanding the channel we are going after, such as Facebook, direct mail, TV or Instagram. We need messaging for this channel. If you are marketing to Mexican-Americans for quinceañera photography and you show a picture in your ad of a white 4-year-old girl, there is a very good chance your ad will fail miserably. It’s common sense, but I see it over and over again in our industry and many others.
Your marketing has to be solid and resonate with the audience you have defined. Not sure if it will? Take a poll among your client base. Show them the ad before you run it, and ask them if they would call. If not, why? Ask them how the ad makes them feel. What comes to mind? If the answers you are getting are not what you were hoping for, adjust the ad accordingly.
Be flexible but firm.
Remember, this is about being true to yourself and your vision. That does not mean you should be an ass. Artists are a funny bunch. They are either extremely humble about their talent or extremely overconfident for no apparent reason. I am reminded of a peer’s photo session I was watching in Las Vegas a few years ago. I was embarrassed for him and our profession when it was all done.
The creative director kept changing her mind based on what she expected versus what she was seeing on the back of the camera. Frustrating for the photographer? Of course. But at the end of the day, the client is paying you money to deliver, whether a wedding client, senior, family, corporate. The photographer was having a meltdown because the sun was setting. He shouted, “I cannot work in these conditions!” I remember being there watching and thinking, what an ass.
So, what does this mean for you? Not every client is going to see the world exactly the way you do. That’s okay. I would settle for 80 percent. That means I’d rather have a client who’s in the ballpark of my vision than one who is on the other side of the planet. My style of photography is architectural-based. I love a big sweeping landscape with a grand architectural feature and then the couple smaller in the frame. That’s more art than a true portrait. But clients want to see their faces in portraits. So of course, I am flexible. During shoots, I capture both what they want and what I want. The end is a happy client who gets the best of both worlds.
Stuff like this has to be flushed out during the initial consultation with the client. Let’s look at our high school seniors consultations. Our style is very much like a fashion shoot. If a client wants indoor photography where they’re peaking around a tree with fake lattice in the background, we tell them that’s not what we do, and to check out our website and portfolio to understand what we do. If I take this client on, there is a high probability I will not make them happy and they will leave our studio with a bad taste in their mouth and ultimately give us a bad review. In reality, it was just a mismatch. So, while you have to stay true to your vision, you also have to find that balance and be flexible.
Chase your dreams.
We have an incredible opportunity in life to do what we love and get paid for it. What is your dream? Whatever it is, chase it with everything you have in your being. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. There will be struggle. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Remember that when things get tough.
Being a professional photographer is an incredible opportunity. Every day, I wake up and do what I love. Imagine how incredible life would be for you and your family if you were truly happy and doing what you love. Go get it.