Gene Higa captivates his clients with an animated, professional style—that is, once they shift their focus from his wedding imagery. Actually, that’s all part of Higa’s plan: to market himself as someone who’s smart and attentive, someone you can trust to deliver wedding photographs that draw gasps from those who see them.
“I market myself as hip, cool, and stylistic, and emphasize that the classic look is still there in my photography,” Higa says. His clients seem to agree, and love that Higa’s modern, San Francisco-based studio is adorned with tasteful accents and large prints from some of his recent shoots, offering colorful, strong visuals to back up his presentation.
What’s so striking about the images are his settings and backdrops. “I try to hit non-standard locations for formal shots, to avoid looking like the other guy,” says Higa. “Putting a wedding dress where you’d never expect to see one—that gives the photos a different look and style.”
Creating a fashion-oriented, casual but modern style is half of what drives his marketing . . . and what Higa feels is a big part of what brings in the bookings. “A lot of shooters tend to look at other wedding photographers’ work for inspiration. I avoid that altogether, and browse fashion, marketing, and advertising photography for my inspirations. Modeling myself after a traditional wedding photographer isn’t what I’m trying to do,” says Higa.
While he feels that shooting weddings in the same location, over and over, ensures a great final product, Higa knows that a new, off-the-beaten-path location brings out the artist in him, and gets images other photographers may not find—simply for not wanting to work beyond their comfort zone. “It gets the creative juices flowing. I re-invent myself at each wedding,” he says. “Trying to be an artist while making a living is exciting.”
What’s in a Name?
Higa’s business model calls for projecting his brand, making sure everyone he meets will likely remember him. He finds this easy to do, as all that’s required is to be himself. “People can spot a phony. If you’re enjoying yourself, and excited about what you’re doing, it will show,” he says.
If a vibrant and positive attitude isn’t enough, he always makes a sincere effort to learn at least one thing from every person he talks to.
“People are interesting, and they love to talk. If you’re interested, they’ll open up. For me, loving the job means getting to know my clients. I try to get to know the bride’s and groom’s parents, and make sure they know I’m there to create great photography for them, too. I make it a point, before I leave a wedding, to say goodbye to the parents first and to the bride and groom last. This approach has always worked for me. The referrals, emails, and ‘thank you’ cards are the payoff.”
On the Road Again
Higa’s wedding photography isn’t limited to his hometown of San Francisco. His destination wedding packages are a flourishing part of his bookings, in part because of the way he markets them: he blogs about his destination weddings on his website. This lets his clients read about how great their special day was for him, too, when he sends them the links to share with their family and friends. This further extends his name, his brand, his personality, and his photography.
“My blog is one of the best marketing tools I’ve ever used,” he says. “My current, past, and future clients all read my blog. People follow it and pass its link along to friends. Potential clients can see I’m working every weekend, and that I’m working in exotic places. They get to read about who I am as a person. “The comfort and confidence this builds is impressive. Says Higa, “It is sort of a pre-qualifier, allowing too-busy-to-stop-in, career-conscious brides to ‘interview’ me . . . without even meeting me. I’m booking without ever sitting down with the brides.”
People who see his blog before a wedding approach him at the reception to talk about what they saw, and often book him for their own weddings. “There’s nothing as cool as having folks meet you after they’ve seen your work and loved it!”
Being in a new setting for each destination wedding also adds a creative spark. “All of my travel wedding locations are new to me, so the perspective is fresh, which makes it great for me and great for the client. We’ll often drive out from the ceremony site, looking for texture, lines, and something with more of a fashion flair to it.”
Expenses are covered for destination weddings, from flights to ground transportation to hotels. Being abroad also means taking safety precautions, especially with the client’s photographs. After each wedding, Higa and his assistants back up the files on his laptop, on a portable hard drive, on DVDs—one set to carry and one to FedEx back to his studio.
The Higa Team
From India to Peru, Italy to Greece, professionalism and diligence remain his top priorities. “I have a great support team; they work well to support my brand, even when I’m away. I feel that everyone who takes part in my business is part of my PR process. From my store front designer to my onsite assistant, all are part of the experience. Everyone and everything combines to make a happy client. Nothing beats a great team.”