With photographic styles that are distinctive yet quite compatible, Richard McDowell and Amy Sayers of Saskatchewan's Red Leaf Studios share an enthusiasm for their work that drives their style, their marketing, and their business. This wasn't always the case.
"We were doing okay with corporate photography clients, but we found that it was really more work than pleasure for us," McDowell says. "We love photography and have a great passion for our creativity, but we were feeling stifled-even with our couples and wedding work, which we loved more than anything else."
As a result, they dropped their corporate work altogether and reinvented their brand, focusing on the wedding photography they loved so much. "We believed then, and still believe now, that couples will hire us if they love us," adds Sayers. "Our marketing followed our attitude adjustment-letting our love of our work show. It's the number-one reason we think we've successfully changed our client base and increased our bookings."
Rustic, Romantic Vision
Red Leaf Studios presents their "rustic," romantic images with a stylish, motion-inspired, fashion-magazine edge. Their work often focuses on the intimacy between their clients, something they can only capture through trust and comfort with the couples.
"We keep our style out in front, keeping clients' comfort level high, working with them to give them just a few tips on intimacy, then letting them loose," says McDowell. "We don't talk to our clients too much-we just get them to close their eyes and enjoy a moment. It keeps things romantic, and lets our trust with them shine through. We get some of our best shots this way, letting the subjects be themselves in their own space."
"A lot of people get caught up in what's already going on in wedding photography," Sayers says. "But it's more important to follow your own personality, bring out your own style. We keep a more reserved approach that lets us value ourselves and our work, which transmits to our clients' purchases." Adds McDowell, "We want to convey that we're artists, and we want that perception to be there from the second they look at our website, before they even meet us."
Quality and Craftsmanship
Red Leaf Studios' consultations also pitch their precision craftsmanship and attention to detail in their prints and albums. McDowell explains that it all adds to the perception of quality, which is a good selling point when clients see jobs in progress at the studio.
"It was a ton of work to get our products here, but they're now the best we can offer," says McDowell. "Our prints are made on Moab, Ilford, and Hahnemühle papers, then UV-laminated. Clients don't have to worry about fading, or even keeping prints behind glass. We emphasize this. We use the ImagePrint RIP system, and I swear by it. We can input a paper profile and it's 100 percent consistent every time. Printed today or six months from now, the output will be identical-and we let our clients know that, too."
They make a point of telling clients that their photographs will last for generations to come, and that the "shoot and burn" mentality, while more affordable, often ends up as a pile of CDs that are retired to bookshelves and never have their contents printed.
"We walk couples to our print production area, explaining how we do everything in-house by hand," says Sayers. "We don't take the fast and cheap route, and we feel it shows. All our prints are created in-house with our Epson Stylus Pro 7800. We show them that the added attention gives our prints a distinctive feel and presentation. If you believe in the value of what you're selling, your sincerity will be valued and appreciated. We also emphasize that our albums come from two of the top album suppliers in the world: Albums Australia and Queensberry. The quality is perceived-that's important."
The Soft Sell
With Red Leaf Studios, you're not likely to encounter package shuffling, upselling, and booking pressure tactics. They prefer a no-pressure, open approach to sales. This approach allows a welcoming of their higher price-point and lets them choose clients more carefully.
"We tell them we book on a ‘first come, first served' basis, and to please let us know as soon as they can," Sayers says. "They get the message that we don't have to have their business; in all likelihood, we'll book the date either way. It doesn't diminish them, but leaves the sales pressure to them, not to us. Sometimes they will leave, chat on the sidewalk, and come right back in to write a check."
McDowell explains that their client base changed completely with this approach, and it was a change for the better. "We're very real, and we essentially have an interview with potential wedding clients," he says. "We make sure they're a personality we want to work with. Choosing clients, as opposed to bargaining for them, was a big step for us. We now focus on clients who appreciate what we do as opposed to asking how much it costs."
Red Leaf has also done away with free "bonus" services, finding that they devalued their product and services, instead of generating goodwill and sales incentives. "The more we gave away, the less our clients valued the gesture," says Sayers. "They would often show up late, considering it a ‘free practice.' How you're valued has a lot to do with how you price yourself. If we want to do something special for a client, we'll do it, but it's no longer a given."