Daniel Doke's Massachusetts and New Hampshire wedding and portrait studios are the result of a seven-year effort to streamline and deliver quality, affordability, and value to his clients. With a stable of photographers and packages that span the full spectrum of styles and price, Doke can offer something for everyone.
Branding is Key
Doke's personal vision with a camera allowed him to raise his wedding prices each year, but he found that by raising his prices, he priced himself out of many of his potential clients' wallets. To keep business he would otherwise have had to pass on, his solution was to open a second studio a few minutes away that displays his name but offers other photographers-each with their own style and specialty-and a lower price tag.
Doke's branding is consistent throughout, though, and his studios' forte is consistent customer service and value. No matter who's behind the lens, the client is receiving Dan Doke signature products and service. "We initially wanted to create a solely high-end studio, but as a businessperson I knew I needed a wedding studio offering that was more affordable, too-so if someone wants our style and our brand, we have other photographers that we price lower," says Doke. "Our lowest-priced photography is more traditional in presentation. We also have photojournalistic photographers to cover requests for candid styles. Personally, I offer a bit of a blend of everything. I love traditional portraits; making every single person look great in a portrait is what I live for. I also do some fashion-style work and use creative tricks to light some of my images. As a team, we can offer just about any client what they're looking for."
Doke mainly works out of his home, in a converted three-car garage that acts as an office and consultation area. "The old chicken coop is a gallery, and the potting shed is the production room," he says. "It's a charming space and works great with our style of branding.
"Obviously we don't get walk-ins at the house--it's all about appointments," Doke continues. "Our Park St. studio, a 15-minute drive from the house, is just over the border in New Hampshire and sits in one of the area's best wedding markets--there are dozens of great wedding venues nearby. This studio has my name, just not my higher prices. So now, even if they meet with me at the house first, a client has options from all of the photographers and options we offer."
When it comes to keeping order and management in his studios, Doke admits he wasn't the one for the job. "My wife says I'm too hard on staff, too controlling," Doke laughs. "The smartest thing for me to do with that accusation was to listen!"
Doke's studio manager was the solution, letting Doke be the photographer while the business is handled with a level head and fair sense of management values. "I've learned to step back and stop expecting everyone to work the way I do," concedes Doke. "I have learned to always hire someone I see who is better than I am, and that means my ego stays on the sideline. If, for example, I see someone who designs better albums than I do, I try to hire them on the spot."
Doke's approach to marketing is varied, but he assures that referrals are his number-one source for booking more than 200 weddings over the past few years--though he would like to keep the number under 150, as that allows for more attention to the quality and service that his clients deserve.
"To bring in clients, we of course market the website, but there are so many wedding photographer's sites out there that we have to go beyond that," he says. "We drop off albums and photographs at every venue we work with, too, and we do about 30 wedding shows a year. Once a client gets into the studio, I leave the selling to the photographs."
Doke has spoken at WPPI and enjoyed numerous awards, all of which offer credentials to help him present himself as a respected professional--and that brings client confidence. Combined with attention to detail and albums, the results show in the bottom line. "We're always trying to keep our service top-notch, and always evolving," insists Doke. "I attend WPPI every year to stay abreast of new products and trends. We use PictoBooks for our albums and only offer their high-end [solutions]. My competition offers the lower end, which sets us apart right away to potential clients."
Doke's fashionable and varied styles are the result of endless seminars, classes, and study. He takes no credit for what he presents to his clients, instead crediting the scores of teachers he's had over the years.
"I'm a seminar nut!" he proclaims. "I've studied with the best wedding shooters I could get access to. I store their tips and tricks in my mental toolbox and pull them out when I need to. I don't think I do anything particularly original; it's all been picked up from teachers-and I assemble those styles the way the job demands."
Doke takes very special care when working with his brides in particular, knowing that it's their special day. He lets them know his approach will be to treat her as the individual she is, and he lets the bride cue him in on what they'd love-and reminds them that their happiness is forefront in his mind. "Grooms are numbers people, but brides want to know my style," he says. "I tell them my main goal is to make them look amazing. I tell the bride that I want her to appear sexual, funny, happy--I don't want to offer her a single bad photograph. I want her in a pose that makes her personality shine through. To do this, I observe who she is and try to shoot to that. I want to capture what's real. If I can't get it on the spur of the moment, I can observe how she interacts and then pose her later for a quick image that's still authentic. I love hearing that I captured them as they are--it's very satisfying feedback."
Doke's images will often incorporate the use of nontraditional lighting, which includes constant sources such as video lights and flashlights. The look is exciting and fresh and offers immediate feedback to the bride as well as to onlookers. "I'll have the bride and groom lay on the floor and light them with a flashlight or video light so that the people standing around can see what we're doing," he says. "They can see the way the light is working to flatter the subjects-that's something you don't get with flash. Sometimes the venue's coat-check staff will 'ooh' and 'ahh,' then get their manager, and a small crowd forms to see what's happening with the photography. This lets my reputation spread even more, as the people at the event are participating to an extent, also sharing the experience.
Doke points out that "style" is not limited to the images he makes-it's also the aforementioned reputation among other vendors at the wedding. "We work closely with our venues and fellow vendors," he says. "I always call a facility a week before to find out how to work best with them. I will never be that 'one-more-minute-please' photographer and get in [the way of] other's jobs. If they say I have 15 minutes, I'm done in 13 minutes. You have to be able to work with every vendor and appreciate that they have a job to do, too. Even the limo drivers hear me tell them that they're in charge, and to let them tell me what kind of time I have. I hear enough feedback from vendors to know not all photographers are as flexible. In fact, I've had some sour words directed to my face from other photographers in the area over things like that-I guess I'm not doing any of the others [any] favors. I think of P.T. Barnum's credo: 'I don't care if they're saying good things or bad things-as long as they're talking!'"
See more of Daniel Doke's work at www.dandoke.com
Most Important Product for Productivity
My favorite piece of equipment for productivity is my Mac g5. With it I can work on my images, sell them, or create a demand for myself by making brochures, internet sites and ads, and so many other things. It's easy to rent cameras and lenses, but I have to have access to the world-my Mac is that access. I would carry that computer out of a fire. All my photos, business info, and contacts are in it.
- Daniel Doke
Daniel Doke's Gear Box
• Canon EOS 1D Mark II and Mark III
• Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 24mm f/1.4, 135mm f/2.0, 300mm f/4.0,16-35mm f/2.8, 17-40mm f/4
• Sigma 8mm f/4
• Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro
• Canon Speedlite 580 and 580EX II
• Quantum Qflashes
• Speedotron Black Line with 102 heads
• Quantum FreeWire radio slaves
• Lowel id-light with barn doors
• Delkin 4GB cards
• Ed Pierce target for color balance
• Tamrac bags
• Bogen tripods
• Mac G5 desktops, Mac laptops
• Custom PCs
• 23-inch monitors
• Adobe Photoshop
• iView MediaPro
• Adobe Lightroom
• Kevin Kubota Actions
• Nik multimedia filters
• Roxio Toast Titanium
• Photodex ProShow Producer