The Art of Storytelling
You would think that being someone that photographed the brutal, blood spitting, hard hitting. Board crunching game of hockey would have little connection to the pristine world of the pristine world of weddings. weddings where little girls have dreamed of that perfect, romantic day since they were seven. You would also think that brides want to see nothing but the beautiful details of their perfect wedding day reflected back at them by the photographer that they were choosing.
We talked on Thursday's episode about storytellers having the ability to transcend industries. It’s actually even more powerful than that. The skill allows you to blend your skills within your industry, allowing you to be specific and niched while also having a chameleon-like ability to cover more ground. Creating that skill and understanding allows you to grab opportunities that you normally might not have a shot at.
Deep into our wedding photography career, I met with a bride and her dad about her upcoming nuptials. Our approach to meeting with a bride was very simple. I brought two briefcases- both with a beautiful, modern and custom designed wedding album. Those albums allowed us to show two full weddings, start to finish, displaying not only our storytelling abilities but the way we captured moments, the way that we saw light and the quality of our albums.
One evening, before I was to meet with a potential client, I picked up a copy of a magazine that I had been impatiently waiting for. It was an issue of Sports Illustrated, but not just any issue of SI. It was the issue that- after years of trying- had one of my images prominently displayed. A few months earlier, I had shot a picture of Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby that was selected by their editors to be the main, two page wide photograph that would lead off the featured story that they wrote about him. I could barely contain my excitement. Sports Illustrated was my favorite magazine growing up and it was one of my biggest dreams to get a prominent spot in their magazine,
When I got the copy in my hand, I stared at it way longer than I should have. I thought back to all of the years where I made no money in the industry. In fact, I made a grand total of twenty thousand dollars in my first six years of shooting, including my time at school. So many emotions flooded my head as I stared at that paper. Wanting to show my friend, I placed one of the copies in my briefcase that held the wedding albums.
At the meeting with the bride that night, she showed up with her parents. She seemed to really enjoy our work and the conversation was good but by no means sis I get the vibe that this was a slam dunk. Sometimes, you just know. We can tell by their language that they were going to book us, they just needed to meet in person and make sure that we weren’t complete lunatics before they signed the check. This meeting wasn’t the case. She was clear that they had met with a handful of other photographers and they would make their decision once they evaluated all of the options.
At the end of the meeting, as I put the album back in the case, I saw the Sports Illustrated at the bottom.
“Would you like to see something cool before you go?,” I asked, completely unscripted.
After they agreed, I pulled out the magazine and showed them my image.
“You shot that?” The bride asked.
I went into full storytelling mode. I told them the entire story, including how I had such a bad back problem that I almost didn’t make it to the game. I could hardly walk and was awaiting a possible surgery, but I couldn’t turn down this assignment. It was with a new agency and I wouldn’t get future work if I said no. I then told the story about how, because of the back pain and getting no sleep the night before, I not only forgot to bring my camera batteries to the arena but how I mistakenly brought one of our broken cameras!
The entire afternoon was a comedy of errors that kept leading down a darker, more painful path. They knew that the day would end positively, judging by the picture in the magazine, but they were transfixed on each word that I said. I made sure I took my time and let them feel what I was feeling. They couldn’t get enough.
I then described the end of the game, when that image was made. Usually, if I’m in good health, I leave my spot to rush back to the photo room to transmit the images and then get out to beat traffic. But I was in so much pain that I sat in my seat a little longer. While I sat there, the team announced the three stars- the top players from the game. Crosby was the number one star, and with nothing but a spotlight on him, he skated onto the ice, waved his stick while somehow glancing at me, and I took one shot.
What I went to transmit, I didn’t think much of the image. I needed to send twenty images to the agency. I had sent nineteen. I chose that for the twentieth. That was the image that they selected.
This bride and her parents sat with their mouths open. They looked at each other. They looked at me. They looked at the photograph.
“We want you for our wedding,” she declared.
Not surprisingly, I keep that image in the briefcase. It became a routine that near the end of the meeting I would say, “do you want to see something cool?”.
One night, during a meeting with a bride and her dad on the second floor of The Galleria Mall, I asked the same question at the meeting. By now, I had this story down. I know all of the details, I figured out what made people gasp, I knew which words to emphasize. I was almost like it was a part of a show.
The dad, a highly successful attorney who was hard to impress, looked towards her daughter with a mafia-like nod.
“If you are good enough for the Penguins,” he declared, “ you are good enough for my daughter.”
He pulled out his checkbook and handed me a six thousand dollar check.
It took me six years to make twenty thousand dollars in photography. It took me less than two weeks to make more than twenty thousand dollars with just one photograph.
That’s the power of storytelling. And the greater power of using your storytelling to convey a feeling that allows you to stand out in a sea of sameness. Going into those meetings, our company was just one of many. But after hearing that story, we immediately formed a connection that not only won them over but won them over in a way that they were so excited to not only have a wedding photographer that they wanted but one who used the same camera to shoot their pictures that were used to photograph their heroes. Those were the words that one bride told her dad literally moments before they walked down the aisle.