Kirk Mastin grew up loving National Geographic — as many of us did — captivated with the idea of seeing the world through the camera, but it was a trip to South Africa that really ignited his love for the camera. Bummed he hadn’t really discovered photography until he was “old” (the ripe age of 23), he came back the States and attempted to catch up. He found his way into a job in photojournalism, loving the idea of living life through his subject.
A few years later, the entire print industry went digital. Day rates dropped and Kirk needed another option so he decided to try wedding photography. Determined to make it something he enjoyed, Kirk’s wedding photography became a hybrid of photojournalism and fine art.
After years of running a wildly successful wedding photography business, Kirk started Mastin Labs where he develops incredible tools to merge consistency and depth of film with the speed and ease of digital photography.
Today, Kirk’s teaching us about simplicity — in our photography, gear, marketing, and overall approach to business. Here are the highlights from our conversation. You can also listen to the full Momentum Podcast episode below.
***Wedding photographers: check out 26-minute mark for a great bonus tip that can quickly double your sales!***
Simplify Your Gear
The industry makes us believe we need a bunch of gear to take great photos. But, deep down, we all know that simply owning the best dongles, flash accessories, and lenses won’t make you a great photographer.
Even so, photographers often struggle with insecurity that they won’t get the right shot. We’re scared we’ll miss something. And our hunt for gear is often based on that insecurity. We tell ourselves that if we buy the right equipment, we’ll get better shots.
Having too much equipment can actually lead to the opposite. When we have to make too many adjustments, we distance ourselves from our subjects and distract ourselves from the moments we’re trying not to miss. The answer isn’t to overcomplicate our photography… it’s to simplify it.
For Kirk, the move towards a simple approach didn’t come fast… or easy. Early on in his career as a wedding photographer, Kirk made a mistake opened his eyes to the necessity of simplicity.
During a wedding, he missed a key shot — the kiss. Kneeling down in the dark church, he realized he had the wrong lens on for that tight kiss shot everyone loves. But between fumbling for another lens and being distracted by a guest, he couldn’t change the lens fast enough. He looked up and realized he’d missed the kiss.
Fortunately, he had a second photographer that captured the kiss for the couple, but he knew he couldn’t let his gear get in the way again.
After that wedding, Kirk sold all of his gear except for his 50mm and 35mm lenses, and over the next ten years of his wedding career, he only used these two lenses.
Kirk says this was easily one of the best decisions he’s ever made!
How should you simplify your gear?
One of Kirk’s favorite pieces of advice for new photographers is to learn from the greats.
Study them. Learn what worked for your idols.
The more Kirk studied his favorites — Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson — the more he realized that the best photographers use simple gear. They’ve found what works for them and they stuck to it. They’ve transcended “equipment” completely. Instead, it’s all about “What am I shooting? Why am I shooting it? Does it touch me in some way? Does it ask a question?”
When we simplify to one or two lenses, we’re not limiting ourselves. We’re capitalizing on our best skills. Early in Kirk’s equipment scale down, he went through Lightroom and picked his 5-star photos. When he clicked on the metadata, he realized 80% of those were shot with the same 50mm lens. He thought, “If all my best work is coming from my 50, then all my other lenses are hurting me.”
Go through Lightroom and try it for yourself. What lens produces your best shots?
The straw that literally broke Kirk’s back and drove him to permanently simply his gear an injury. Kirk landed weird when he jumped off a trashcan he’d stood on to capture a cool angle. He broke a disc in his back. Instantly paralyzed, he couldn’t finish the session and couldn’t work for months. When he was finally cleared to start back, he couldn’t carry much.
He simplified down to one camera body, two lenses, and a fanny pack crammed with one flash, ten rolls of film, two batteries, two memory cards, the timeline, a Powerbar, a 5-Hour Energy, and needle and thread.
Did this hurt his business? No. By simplifying, Kirk’s business quadrupled and he actually created his best work.
Simplify Your Marketing
This lesson on simplicity applies to your marketing too.
Only Show Your Best
When your style is distinct, you attract the types of people who want that style. So, only show your best images on your site. Whatever you show, you’ll shoot. If you show people everything, you’ll shoot a little bit of everything because that’s what they’ll ask for.
Think back to the typical jumping wedding party picture. As much as you hated that shot, you felt like you had to shoot it. If you didn’t, you weren’t a “wedding photographer.” So, you kept shooting it and posting it and people kept asking for it.
The bottom line is, if it’s not your style, don’t post it.
Act Like An Expert
Kirk says he can quickly tell whether a photographer is a pro or an amateur by just glancing at their website.
Amateurs show everything — cars, babies, weddings, senior portraits, families, and so on.
Professionals only show their specialty.
Think about going to the doctor. If you have a back injury, you want to see a specialist — not a general practitioner. It’s the same with photography. If you want to be known for wedding photography, you need to get everything else off your website.
It’s ideal to pay the bills by only capturing your specialty type of photography. But, if you branch out, give each type its own brand. That’s what we do at StickyFolios. We make it possible for you to build a website for each of your brands.
When you streamline each brand to its own website, gallery, and landing pages, it’s incredibly effective for your business. You become an expert in that subject.
Christa Meola — one of the best-known boudoir photographers in New York City — actually does a ton of family portraits every year, but she doesn’t have a website for family portraits. She specializes in boudoir portraits so that’s what she markets. She gets other business because people trust her work.
When someone trusts you as a photographer, they’ll ask you whenever they have a photography need. They don’t want to search for a new photographer. So, only market your specialty — it will only help your business.
Streamline the Purchase Process
No one wants 500 photos. When you post your client’s album, lead with your five best images.
Then, only include the best. Never post duplicates or similar photos — just decide. Otherwise, you’re taking away from the power of the photo. Part of your job is to make the decision about which photos are best so your clients don’t have to.
Otherwise, you leave your clients in the paradox of choice: if you give someone too many choices, they’ll make no choice. If they can’t decide on which of the ten “first glance” shots you show them, they’ll buy none of them.
As you’re shooting and selecting your top photos, keep in mind the best details at a wedding are friends and family. The centerpieces may be cool, but a picture of someone who the bride and groom may not ever see again — that’s real value.
Market (and Profit) from Guests
Kirk also boosted his sales by shooting guest portraits during weddings. They already look great and they’re happy because they’re with friends and family. When you’re shooting a wedding, you’re doing more than just shooting the couple. You’re shooting corporate headshots, Christmas cards, and profile pictures. Guest portrait sales brought in as much money as the entire wedding (albums included).
He made a minimum of $2000 per wedding for about an hour of work. Plus, it’s a great marketing tool.
When you capture great guest portraits, those people usually hire you later to capture their special occasions. You’ve already created the best photo they’ve ever had of themselves — now you’re their top choice. You just got paid to market.
Simplify Your Networking
One of the quickest ways to grow your business is by building relationships with other people in your industry. Running ads and tweaking your website is great, but it can’t replace face-to-face networking. Every week, find someone in your industry to talk with in person. Buy them a drink and build a relationship.
Maybe that’s nerve-wracking for you. If so, here’s the trick: let them talk about themselves. Kirk would contact a florist, for example, and say, “I love your work and I’m in your industry. Can I buy you a coffee and learn more about your business?” That’s it.
In those conversations, you’re all in the same boat. You’re all trying to build your business. You’re allies. And most people won’t pass up the chance to meet someone else in their field that understands their job.
Then, you’ll open the opportunity to trade services — maybe you take some pictures of their flowers and they leave your album in their shop. It’s really simple, but it works.
Don’t underestimate the value of these contacts. One relationship can be priceless.
Kirk saw it best when he got to shoot a wedding at Clint Eastwood’s beachfront ranch. The people he worked with asked, “Wow! How’d you get this event? We only have one photographer here — and he’s here every weekend!”
“Cool, does he have a website I could check out?” Kirk asked.
“No, he doesn’t have a website…”
What? He didn’t even have a website?! Think about that. How important is the one relationship that got him this job? He doesn’t advertise and probably makes over $200K a year at one venue!
Human connection and simplification are the things we should be doing before we even start to deal with marketing. But insecurities hold us back. So, before you delve into Facebook adds or tweaking your website, take the time to build human connections.
Kirk knew he needed to move into the digital world with wedding photography, but he couldn’t give up his love of film. Mastin Labs came from his endeavor to match up the consistency and depth of film with the speed and ease of digital photography. His Lightroom and Photoshop presets are the only things on the market that give digital shots that perfect film look.
To learn more about Kirk and how he’s helping photographers create amazing results with Mastin Labs, visit www.mastinlabs.com.