A podcast, blog, custom-designed website, Apple TV, iPods, online slideshows, educational YouTube channel, and working partnerships with Pictage and Apple are all ammo in Sara France's arsenal of wedding photography success. This gal knows how to leverage technology and outsource vendors to build and grow a business. Talking from her iPhone, France claims, "What I use today will probably be middle of the road next year." This notion drives her quest to find and incorporate the latest and greatest into studio operations.
France is the eye for Sara France Photography, based in San Diego, CA, specializing in wedding work. The France recipe for systems that hum and images that pop combines one part gear, one part connection with the subject, and one part verve. "I will do almost anything for a shot, and I'm not afraid of asking my subjects to do things that others would never ask them to do," she says. "I push my couples beyond their comfort zone so they lose awareness of the camera. That's where I want them to be."
For a wedding shooter who logged her first ceremony in summer 2001, France is galloping at a good clip. After several years holding down a full-time job with photography as a side business, it was 2006 when she took the weddings-only income plunge. In 2007 the studio booked 20 ceremonies, sandwiched between the five to 10 other shoots she did with photographer friends. This year, business is on track to record 25 to 30 weddings.
One Part Gear
Growth is great at Sara France Photography. As a business owner and single So Cal gal, one of her biggest challenges is "expanding brand me," citing that the industry of wedding photography is a "very personal beast." Top challenges include figuring out how to automate processes and/or outsource pieces of the workflow, what gear to buy, and how to hire team members who will give clients the signature Sara France experience. At the root of all is making technology work for her. "I spend a lot of time seeking out great technologies that works for all of us in the studio," she says. "We like to stay versatile and mobile. And part of that versatility means outsourcing-determining what parts of the experience really need me and what parts could be handled by others."
France is firmly on the digital side. "I love technology, so I love digital," she enthuses. "I started with the Canon 20D, then advanced to the Mark II and now shoot mostly with the 5D. The advantages of shooting digital far outweigh the challenges posed. I love the sharpness in 5D images."
When it comes to focusing, France prefers fixed lenses and loves to shoot wide open, often switching between the 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, and 85mm f/1.2. "Shooting with these three lenses is a different process, because if you want to change something, you have to move," she says. Lens choice is governed by the look being pursued: "For me, the 35mm has a real commercial/lifestyle feel; it's very intimate. The 50mm provides a very real lens similar to what our eye sees, but with a shallow depth of field." And as for the 85mm: "With this lens I can really pull people out of the background. It's a great portrait lens, and I use it a lot on details and when I want to shoot from a distance."
France quickly switches topics to talk about other gear essentials. A major player is Apple. This platform is her core for operations and marketing, since "everything communicates with each other." She's a fan of the Apple TV (used to give client presentations), Aperture (A-to-Z image management and clean album design), iPods (her mobile broadcast and education platform), and a 17-inch MacBook Pro used at every wedding to show guests a selection of images from the wedding. She's recently been tapped by the company as an Apple power user and is being featured on the Apple website, as well as invited to present on the company's stage.
"Outsource" is another magic word. "Early on I saw it was necessary to let some things go in order to grow," she explains. She's found a perfect partner with Pictage for online proofing and order fulfillment. The company also handles most of her customer service-a significant time-saver. Other helpers in-studio are ShootDotEdit for edit work and RAW adjustments turned around quickly. "I also use an album design service called Albumesque and rely on two amazing part-time employees who have very similar personalities to my own. They deal with the clients on a day-to-day basis, which is important with the amount of traveling I do."
One Part Connection
Beyond gear are the people. "For me it all comes down to relationships-with the client and with others in the industry," she states. "I work next to people I admire, love to work with, and want my clients to work with. The most valuable thing for my business is a strong connection with clients. If the relationship is there, it shows in their images and helps us grow as a business."
Her bridge-building isn't just networking and business cards. France keeps connected via the internet, using a blog, Twitter (a social networking/microblogging service), MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Her website anchors connections to present and future clients, so there's a steady flow of podcasts and online slideshows available for brides. She's also got an enewsletter "Mail From France" promoted on the home page of her custom-designed site. Client testimonials are a must, and updates happen frequently.
"My website is an ever-changing personal space where clients can see my work and meet me," she stresses. "They should get a flavor for who I am and what I do. My goal is for clients to leave feeling as if they've met me. It's more powerful for someone to describe me than it is for me to list what they get if they hire me."
She's not the only one marketing her business-these carefully chosen technology tools let others add to the promotional mix. "Give customers something they can share or pass on, and you have them working for you nonstop!" From numerous downloads on-site, to blog content and the enewsletter, France has this mastered.
And she's subtly marketing before the wedding is over-making the most of available time post-ceremony as guests mingle and get settled in: "We start editing as soon as we get to the reception; by the time they're done with dinner, I have a great slideshow to share by propping a 17-inch Mac on the bar. A great tool to speed up this process is ShowIt Effects." She also snares email addresses from guests to send links to the slideshow and/or podcast within a week.
One Part Verve
Aside from all this tech talk, France creates a great image by drawing inspiration from all ranges of photography. Classifying her look is tough, but the phrase "real moments, real feeling, real emotions" sums it up: "I look outside the industry for inspiration. I pay attention to all sorts of photography, since weddings can take up so many influences. There are movies for visual inspiration, commercial, fashion, sports, and product photography."
At least once a year she makes a trek outside the country. In 2007 she visited Ireland to indulge in landscape photography with a great friend, Jared Bauman. "From that verdant haven and magnificent countryside, I actually got even more in touch with my love for photographing people and the connections made with subjects," she says. As it happened, France chatted with a woman on the flight from the U.S. who happened to be a wedding dress designer: "I talked her into letting me shoot her latest collection while in Ireland-even though I was traveling to shoot and focus on landscapes."
For an afternoon, she, the designer and her family, a few models, six gowns, and the vast outdoors as backdrops created hundreds of images. "Some of my favorites to date were produced in that most memorable day," she says. "I sent a selection of the photos to the designer for her marketing pieces, and I placed several gems in my portfolio."
France describes working on location: "A most memorable image was shot from the top of a ruin along the coast adjacent to an old lighthouse. It was an extremely windy day and the force just whipped her veil around."
The next day wasn't as gusty. "I wanted to show the landscape and open texture of the ruin," she explains. "I grabbed my 16-35 and headed up the ladder. The image that came out of this took my breath away. The challenge of capturing it and the elements that led up to that moment made it even more magnificent."
Clean, White, and Inspirational
When not shooting the greens of Ireland or wedding palettes, France finds peace in her home studio she's decorated with a few favorite images (though for the most part it's a fairly clean and paperless office). One non-tech designer touch-a single red wall.
France looks out from her studio window overlooking a quaint downtown area. "It feels good to be in the comfort of my home with all the modern conveniences," she says. "I love being with my dog and all the women I share my work space with. After a few weeks here, I'm refreshed and ready to hop on a plane for more experiences and challenges."
For more of France's images, visit www.sarafrancephotography.com
Most Important Product for Productivity:
Pictage - I have been with Pictage since 2001 and could not have had this growth without their support as a service and as a community. I was honored to work on the launch of the Pictage User Groups roll-out across the country, personally giving a presentation at almost every event. Thats left me connected with so many great photographers across the country.
- Sara France
Sara France s Gear Box
CAMERAS AND LENSES
Canon 5D, Mark II
Canon lenses: 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 50mm macro f/2.5, 100mm macro, 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 IS
Canon Speedlite 580EX II flash
Lowell and Sony video lights
Canon IR relay and radio slaves
Apple G5 tower with 23-inch Cinema display, 30-inch Cinema display, Apple MacBook Pro, G4 17-inch laptop
Sony 32-inch LCD
Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touches
LaCie portable and RAID hard drives
Apple Aperture, Adobe Photoshop CS3, Showit Effects
Leather Craftsmen Albums
Tamrac messenger and CyberPro Express rolling bag