Last night I gave this presentation to an amazing group of Pittsburgh photographers at the Pittsburgh Pictage User Group (PUG). I am a huge geek and found a great niche for myself and my business - combining photography with engineering and becoming a cross between a photographer and a mad scientist. I build things because I can, because it is interesting and because some of what I build is actually useful to my clients. And because in my spare time I am Batman. Don't tell anyone:)
It is 3:30 in the morning as I am sitting down to write this. Sophia (my 1-year-old daughter) woke me up about an hour ago and I cannot seem to fall back asleep. Truth be told, I have been thinking about this for a long time and in my “fastidious project manager” mode made pages of notes and lists regarding this subject. When we (photographers) first get into photography business, we usually concentrate on building a large client base at all costs. Very few photographers are picky about their clients, or about the projects that they take on. I know this because for years I had been guilty of that: I photographed weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, corporate events, products, families and babies, just to name a few. One day in the fall of 2003, as I was editing 1700 images from a product photoshoot, I realized that “specializing” in so many different things simply meant that I wasn't particularly good at any of them.
I sat myself down (at a bar, if memory serves right), ordered a shot (or three) of Grey Goose, and asked myself: “Dmitriy, what do you enjoy photographing the most?”
The answer was surprisingly easy – I liked photographing events. So I dropped everything else and stuck with weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Now, almost 10 years later, I find myself in a similar situation.
Let me explain…
A few days ago I met with a very nice and beautiful couple who was planning a very high-end, high-fashion wedding. I talked to them for almost two hours, trying very hard to convince them to hire me as their wedding photographer. When I got home, I started thinking about the meeting. Here’s what went through my head.
- What the hell do I know about fashion? I am a jeans-and-a-t-shirt kind of guy.
- I could produce the types of images this couple wanted. After all, I used to photography beauty pageants. However, I shot my last fashion photograph 8 years ago – I did not like shooting fashion then and probably would not like it now.
- If I don’t like photographing fashion, I am not going to be excited about photographing this wedding. That’s not fair to the couple.
- I am the wrong photographer for this client.
- This client is wrong for me.
Brides spend an extraordinary amount of time picking photographers for their weddings, making sure they like the photographer’s style and personality. Photographers should do the same with their clients.
Yes, wedding photography is a business, and businesses need to attract clients and make money. However, at the same time it is our responsibility as photographers to provide the best possible service to brides and grooms, something that would be very difficult to do if we don’t like the couple, the venue, the style or the theme of the wedding.
I thought long and hard about what type of client I would absolutely love to work with. In my infinite nerdiness, I even drew a Venn diagram:)
And, just like 10 years ago, the answer was surprisingly simple. I love working with geeks – science geeks, music geeks, photography geeks, tech geeks, comic book geeks; geeks in the best possible sense of that word. To me, the word “geek” = “passion”. According to the all-knowing Google, the word geek has two definitions:
1. An unfashionable or socially inept person. 2. A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest: "a computer geek".
The first definition has never not really applied to my understanding of the word “geek”. The second one fits perfectly. Note the word “devotion” in the second definition. If you look up “devotion” in a thesaurus, you will see synonyms such as “dedication” and “passion”. Which brings me back to my original point – “geek” = “passion”.
A few years ago I met with a bride who had a PhD from MIT; we had the most fascinating conversation about superconductors. Last year I photographed a wedding for a couple where the groom made guitars in his basement as a hobby; he could also play a really awesome rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” on a mandolin. I had the privilege to work with a couple whose combined comic book collection contained over 2000 titles, some of them signed by Stan Lee.
I love working with passionate people, people who don’t take themselves too seriously, who are willing to strike the Superman pose, jump into a pool during an engagement session, or drive a golf cart at night over a rickety bridge. I love photographing people who are so in love with each other that the groom is willing to walk a city block with his eyes closed just to be surprised and awed by the first look at his beautiful bride; where the groom is not ashamed to cry in front of 200 people when his bride enters the sanctuary.
If you are a geek, call me – I cannot wait to meet you and photograph your wedding. Geeks need apply!
I want to warn you from the start - this is a rant. I don’t rant to often, so please bear with me. As it is the case with any business, photography has its good moments and bad moments. If I meet with a client who wants me to slash my prices in half because she found someone of Craigs list who will photograph an entire wedding for $500.00, I get understandably upset. When people come up to me in coffee shops when they see my camera and tell me how they are photographing weddings with their digital Rebels, I get really frustrated. When Panasonic released its ill-fated Lumix camera commercial that featured an exhibition by a photographer who did not know the first thing about photography, I did not know whether to laugh or throw a shoe at my TV.
Over the last few years I must have received at least 20 emails from clients and aspiring photographers asking me about my equipment. So far I avoided posting my response to my blog. My equipment changes constantly, things break down, get replaced, get updated, get sold on Ebay. Yesterday I received 3 emails in one day asking this question, so for those of you who are interested, here is what’s in my bag. Or bags... Bags:
- Canon EOS 7D
- Canon EOS 5D Mark III
- Mamyia 645M (2 bodies)
- Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8L
- Canon 100 mm f/2.8L Macro
- Canon 200 mm f/2.8L
- Canon 50 mm f/1.4
- Mamyia 80 mm f/2.8
- Mamyia 135 mm f/3.5