What I Wish I Knew: Photographing the Truth

Our "What I Wish I Knew" series continues as Davina Fear shares how she began creating more meaningful experiences for her clients and a few mistakes and revelations she made early on in her business. 
Over 13 years ago, when I first started my wedding photography business, I just wanted to do everything right and I wanted other photographers to respect me. So I looked to the people that I admired and looked successful. I noticed that they would take people downtown and put couples in front of colorful walls and old railroads and in fields. Their photos looked amazing and they got great results. I took their cue and began photographing my couples the same way.
I enjoyed it but I also wondered why I was taking couples to places that they had never been to together and why was I putting everyone in the same locations? Every couples’ photos were awesome but they were basically just different people in front of the same backgrounds. One day I was in Barnes and Noble and picked up the book Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts. It made an immediate impression on me. His words about creating a meaningful customer experience, Loyalty Beyond Reason, and connecting with people on a deeper level really resonated with me.
Right then, I knew that I wanted to create much more meaningful experiences for my clients.  I scribbled out several things I wanted to change about the way I ran my business. I felt on fire and all the way home I couldn’t wait to read more of the book. One thing I knew I needed to change was how much I knew about my couples. At that time there weren’t questionnaires or focus on creating relationships with your clients beyond their session. I wrote out all of the questions I would want to ask if they were my friends, if we were sitting across a dinner table chatting, what would I ask them? If I were going to buy them birthday gifts, what would I want to know about them? Where did they meet? How long did they know each other? Where have they been together? What’s their favorite memory together?
These were the types of questions I wanted to know. I created a questionnaire for my clients to answer before making any decisions about their engagement session (which I renamed a “Get To Know You” session). I used their answers as inspiration to create their photo session, to personalize surprise gifts, craft emails I sent them, and what topics to use for blog posts.
I was no longer shooting in front of colorful walls downtown. Instead, I was shooting in vintage tea shops, junkyards, salsa clubs, tiny barely furnished apartments, family farms, the zoo, secret hideouts in the canyon, specialty cigar shops, ferris wheels, drive-in movies, hole in the wall breakfast diners, art galleries, swing dance classes, and more. All the locations were places that meant something to each client...a place they met, got engaged or had their first kiss. Each session, I was going to a place I had never been. My couples stories take me to all these new, amazing locations.
I love the unknown of walking into a new location through the stories of my couples. It’s awesome to feel their energy and fall in love with their story. No matter where we go, the couple's story drives me to make the location work. Taking a risk and trusting my instincts has allowed me to create some of my favorite images.


Think about your ideal client. What is your favorite way to work with them? How could you make their experience more meaningful? Make a list of questions you would ask them. (If they are a bride and groom, ask them how they met, where they first confessed they loved each other, where they’ve been together. For a family you may want to know what their everyday routines look like or what they love about each of their children or spouse.
Begin designing your shoots around their answers. If they go to a salsa club every Friday night, then go with them to the club on Friday night and photograph them dancing (it was as awesome as it sounds). If a parent loves the way their child always kisses their finger before heading into school, make sure to capture that moment. Start using the information your clients give you to create sessions that will move and inspire you beyond trying to come up with poses. This will be more meaningful to your couples or families.
When I started shooting the truth and honesty of my clients my business took off. People started connecting with my new practice and the types of sessions I was shooting. Couples want to have images that convey who they are and how deeply they feel about each other.
Today, I photograph families’ everyday awesome-ness, being themselves, doing what they do all the time. I get to be with them while they hang laundry with their daughter on a gorgeous day in England, games of hide and seek, early morning snuggling, and trips to Target.  
Those early days of trusting myself and my clients help me now. I get to see a family’s real story as I live a day in their life. What I do carries so much more meaning than pretty fields or colorful walls. I often don’t  know how much meaning is hidden in a session until after the session is over.
By following my own desire, to search for the meaning in what I’m creating, I found that the meaning in the couples’ and families’ stories I photograph is where the real awesome-ness happens.
 Thanks, Davina!
migrated_davina_bio.jpg1384112457272101639Davina Fear is a Familyness Documentary photographer, capturing your family’s everyday awesome-ness. She’s addicted to pumpkin bread. She knows what Wingardium Leviosa means and wishes her kids could have gone to Hogwarts (but they would come home every night and not stay all term). She blogs at davinafear.com and loves when Hot Guy wears his brown cords. Have you signed up for her FREE book: The Art of Familyness Photography? Make sure to get it here.

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