I had a great job with amazing benefits + on track for a prolific career. There was one problem: I wasn’t happy. I wanted to pursue photography full time, but knew it was selfish to do that to my family. Still, my amazing, supportive wife encouraged me to do so and I put in my two weeks.
Business was booming, posed session after posed session. But, I wanted more. I wanted to take a pass on the posed sessions (which paid the bills) and only book documentary sessions. My unbelievable, encouraging wife told me to do just that and agreed to eat nothing but Ramen noodles three meals a day for a while.
Surprisingly enough, there was a demand for sessions like this, and our clients loved them!
I read posts in Facebook photography groups about how going documentary wasn’t possible in the area they lived in, and how people weren’t willing to pay for that sort of session. ‘There’s always a demand for what you’re selling,’ I’d think to myself, ‘you just have to find the right people.’
Then, something happened. We moved from our East Coast home in the city to the middle of nowhere—a small, simple town in Nebraska with a population of less than 3,000 and the largest within a three-hour radius.
There were no calls.
Our inbox was empty.
Our marketing, which was so successful in the city, was returning zero results.
“You do what!?” people would ask when we explained our photography style. Immediately I thought back to all those posts I’d read about people having trouble finding clients in their area. ‘Here we go,’ I thought.
One day, the business line rang.
“P&W Photography, this is Phil,” I answered praying it wasn’t yet another wrong number.
“Hi?” the voice asked, sounding as unsure about the call as I was.
“Hi, this is Phil, how may I help you?”
“Are you the photographers?” she asked.
“Yes, this is P&W Photography,” I said dumbfounded that I was talking to someone who actually meant to call us.
“Okay, yes, but are you the photographers that take pictures of people that don’t look at the camera?”
“Umm, yes, we shoot documentary, so essentially you do your own thing—we love planning sessions around activities you like to do—and then we follow you around and capture real moments instead of posed.”
“That is AWESOME!” she exclaimed, “That’s EXACTLY what I’m looking for!!”
*Cue awkward happy dance*
While things didn’t change right then and there for the business, it rejuvenated me a bit—lit that fire under me knowing there are people looking for what we offer, even in small towns like ours.
When people would ask about us taking posed family photos in the park, instead of saying “No, we don’t do that.” I’d answer, “Let me tell you what we do, and WHY we do it. Here, let me send you a link to a previous session so that you know what we capture and how meaningful the images are!”
I think that’s the key—at least it is for our business—finding out what’s meaningful to our clients and shooting exactly that.
One thing I loved as a kid was going to the County Fair
What might you wanna remember about your past + your present that you haven’t yet documented? Create a To-Remember list and save some of your best from slipping through the cracks.
My wife and I made a trip to the fair a yearly tradition and, as we had kids, it transitioned into a family tradition. Our three year old STILL talks about the South Carolina State Fair that we went to two years ago!
I knew if it was something that was so meaningful to our family, there had to be others out there! I posted that we’d be offering a Day at the Fair family session on our social media and almost immediately booked an inquiry.
The mom admitted that her husband thought we were crazy for offering a session where there are hundreds of strangers in the back of their family photos.
But, once they saw their images, the love in the forefront of the images was what they saw… not the strangers in the background.
Fellow documentarian, you CAN do it.
The days [and weeks, and months] of second-guessing yourself and your business decisions pay off. When you have that person tell you that you are what they’ve been looking for, when that person tells you that they can’t afford you, but they are saving up because they want you—there isn’t anything like it.
About Phil Mayhew: P&W Photography are Phil & Whitney Mayhew, a husband/wife team located in Nebraska & documenting the good life throughout the Midwest. P&W Photography are non-traditional, storytelling photographers who specialize in lifestyle & documentary-inspired photography, making it their goal to capture authentic moments & genuine emotions. They are always eager to travel to new places & meet new people.
Phil & Whitney are parents to two incredible little girls & two sweet Morkie pups. They dream of one day restoring an old, historic home & their love of antiques will one day lead to their television debut on A&E’s Hoarders.