2013: A Year In Review...

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2013. I honestly don't even know where to start. This year has been the best year ever for photography and the worst year ever in my personal life. I've had such a roller coaster of a year that it's super hard to write one of these "recaps." For the sake of everyone, I will spare you a sob story, and focus on the photography aspect of 2013.

WHAT WORKED: 

  • Firsts! Still being a new business, I had so many "firsts" this year. First camera upgrade, first lighting purchase, first time using OCF, etc. I've learned SO much this year and I can definitely say that my work has improved so much. 
  • Sessions! This was my first full year doing full time sessions consistently. In 2012, I wasn't confident enough to pursue clients and market myself, I kind of took that year to build my skills and do cheap, if not free, sessions. I've been so humbled at how many inquiries come in on a daily basis to book with me! I'm truly astonished at how much a year can make a difference. 
  • WEDDINGS! Like mentioned in my 2013: A Wedding Recap post, 2013 wasn't my first wedding but it was my first year with shooting weddings year round. I only shot a few weddings this year but those few have SKYROCKETED me into 2014. I am fully booked for 3 months next year... wait, what?! That's crazy! When I picked up a camera, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that brides would come to me asking to document their wedding. It's such an honor, still is, and always will be the most humbling thing a photographer can do. 
  • Got online and got connected! I had started a Facebook page in April of 2012 and never even expected to pass 500 "likes" -- I mean, I don't even know 500 people? Now passing 1,000 this year, I'm still so astonished that so many people want to follow my work. I also got online with a website (which I'm finally content with) and now I believe my page represents me more than ever. I'm starting to develop a 'brand' across all social media platforms and I'm truly starting to see my marketing degree kick in. 
  • Editing! Anyone can take a picture, but it's the post processing that can really make or break a great photo. I've spent countless hours of editing and this year I really nailed down my 'signature style' -- I am very adamant in staying true to a photo and keeping the moments looking real as possible. Bright colors are a must and the more colorful, the better! 
  • MY BRAND! (I hope you all read that in the voice from the commercial) I look back at this year and look at how many times I changed my logo and color scheme. I feel so embarrassed. This year I got to the meat and potatoes of my marketing degree and really got to understand what having a "brand" is. It's more than a logo. It took me until this past month to really understand what I wanted my "brand" to represent. Hopefully, (if I've done a good job), you'll look at my work, my website, my logo, and my blog posts and come to the conclusion that I wanted: I am colorful, loud, fun, bright, and bold. I've tried my hardest to wrap that into all of my social media and my work. It's something that I will constantly be building and working on. Having a brand is a full time job, one that you must constantly maintain and upkeep, and I can't wait to see what the next year will bring.

     

WHAT DIDN'T WORK: 

  • Scheduling. If you are reading this, and you're one of the sessions that had time mixed up or a date mishap, I am so sorry. At one point this year, I was working two jobs, photography, and school full time. Being a student, working a part time job, and running a photography business has been super rough on me. This has caused so many issues in scheduling and timing. I have made a vow in 2014 to not let that happen. I've also invested in studio software to help me manage appointments and send reminders/confirmations.
  • Payments. Starting in 2013, I will require a deposit of $50 for every session. Something that a lot of people don't understand is when you cancel your time slot, I lose money. I lose an hour that I could have filled with another waiting family. I will also require payments at the BEGINNING of each session. It's happened too many times: A client arrives at a session and doesn't bring payment. I totally understand that things happen and getting a big family ready for family portraits isn't easy, but you don't go to a restaurant without your wallet do you? 
  • Delivery/Packaging. This past year has been sort of a 'trial period' for my delivery of photos. I started the year mailing CD's and then decided that too many people lose CD's and they don't hold as many photos as I'd like. I then moved to digital delivery which is where I will stay next year. However, I'm still experimenting with different delivery methods for online galleries. My weddings will still receive a USB drive in the mail and the packaging for that has changed as well. I'm so excited for my 2014 weddings to see not just their photos, but the mail they receive with them ;) 
  • Information Delivery. I mentioned above that 2013 was a flagship year for inquiries. I've received more emails and messages about sessions and weddings than ever before. That created a problem. I had no "template" or set way to deliver my information. I took each email and responded to them individually. The problem was the amount of time I typed the same information over and over. As of 2014, I have "welcome packets" that I will send to each potential client so that they can not only see prices, but what to expect, tips on what to wear, tips on makeup for photos, and more! I'm so so so excited to be launching these information "magazines" -- stay tuned! 
     

WHAT'S NEW: 

  • Prices! When I first started photography, I made a vow that I would never be one of those photographers that charge $300 for a session and then make you pay extra for the photos. I just can't do that. However, after really getting to know how to run a business, I need to make a change in prices to keep expenses at bay. I am not changing prices because "I think I'm better and need to charge more" -- I'm changing prices because most of my sessions require travel and I was just not making enough to reflect that. 
  • Limited Family Sessions: My first ever photo shoot was with an old friend in high school and then an engagement session and next year, I'm going back to my roots. I have a very high number of weddings and each one of those weddings are promised an engagement session. My weddings come first, and because of this, I will have very limited sessions for families/kids. I will be concentrating on weddings, engagements, and senior sessions. I promise that I will make as much time as possible for family portraits but it will not be as high as last year. 
  • Deposits/Booking for Sessions. As previously mentioned, all sessions will require a $50 deposit to save your date. If I don't receive your deposit, your date will not be saved and given to the next person. First come, first serve. I have been screwed too many times by canceling clients. With such limited availability (especially in Roanoke), I need to protect myself, my time, and my other clients who are waiting for a time slot. 
  • The Wedding Day. A lot of photographers have names for their different packages but I have just one package, yours. The Wedding Day reflects just that, your big day. I have a base package that can be built around your needs and wants for your wedding. There are many new things with this package too including a few surprises for my bride & grooms ;) 
  • One Year Later:  There's only one thing better than spending the wedding day with the couple. Spending time with them a year later. The first year of marriage is probably going to be rough but if you've made it through one year, the rest is history. All of my wedding couples have the option to book one of these "anniversary sessions" at a super discounted price. I can't wait to hear about everything that has happened since the wedding! 
  • Referral Pricing: So many of you have referred your friends and family to me and that has not gone unnoticed! If someone you referred books a session, you will receive something super special from me next time you book ;) -- I'm keeping track, don't worry! Surprises are the best though. 

All in all, 2013 has been my "experimental year" -- I figured out a lot of things business wise and I think it will all be for the better in 2014. I am so so so thankful for every single person that has taken time to compliment my work, send good vibes, and book a session. You all have truly made all of the difference in the world.  Here's to 2014 and a super busy awesome year! 

 

Below are just a VERY FEW of my favorite shots from 2013. 

Posted by Ashley Lester.