Dina Douglass: Quality vs Marketing
by Lorraine A. DarConte
February 01, 2012 — Dina Douglass likes to cover all her bases. “I don’t believe in shooting only traditional wedding photos or only photojournalism,” she says. “I think that’s a cop-out. I pose people, I shoot the candids and I try to generate a style of photography that I would want if someone was shooting my wedding.”
Her own personal aesthetic includes a sense of intimacy and a love of faces. Some photographers, Douglass notes, prefer to include a lot of the environment in their images, with the bride and groom appearing as tiny specks in a far corner of the frame. But this photographer prefers to get up close and personal.
There are many ways for photographers to set themselves apart from the crowd, says Douglass, including their use of lighting, ability to pose people and developing a knack for coaxing out the right expressions. “Once you get it right in-camera, post-processing and color work are key to really standing out in the crowd,” she says. “I don’t just shoot JPEGs and slap them up in a gallery. I shoot RAW and I invest tons of time in correcting and retouching to make people look as good as possible. I invest a lot in postproduction.”
According to Douglass, whose business is pretty much all word of mouth, her best marketing strategy is to consistently generate high-quality work. “I’m really not doing anything other than posting strong work and getting things published. I don’t advertise. The best marketing investment you can make is doing outstanding work,” she says. “I think the message of ‘marketing before quality work’ is dangerous. There are a lot of people that preach about marketing and not enough people preaching about how to create good work. Though Douglass is at the top of her game (she was named a Top 10 Wedding Photographer by American Photo in 2011, and has appeared in numerous publications around the world), she still studies her craft on a regular basis. “I always want to be one step ahead. Marketing isn’t going to save you if you’re lazy. The clients who have money are doing their homework and they can see quality. And that’s how I manage to stay so booked.”
Although she picked up a camera at an early age, photography remained a hobby for a long time while Douglass made her mark in the business world. A college student at 16, she earned two degrees in journalism and spent much of her college life in the darkroom. Her big break came in 2001 when she lost her high-profile gig in the Silicon Valley implosion. It was then she realized she no longer wanted to pursue the fast-paced, corporate lifestyle, and decided instead to return to her first love, photography. “I spent a year working for free, second shooting and studying,” she explains. “[Wedding photography] is a complicated business and I wanted to get all my ducks in a row before I accepted money for a job.”
Luckily, Douglass had enough money to live on for about a year and was able to lay the groundwork necessary so as not to take chances with her clients’ weddings. When she launched her business, Andrena Photography, in 2003, it immediately took off. “I feel really blessed,” says Douglass of her rise to the top, “but I also work really hard at it. I’m insanely focused on color and quality, and anyone who invests their time in that is going to see their business grow. I have a strong sense of composition and a strong sense of what women want to look like and how to retouch them to bring out their best attributes.”
Douglass’ arsenal of equipment includes Canon 5D Mark IIs and Canon 5Ds. Her favorite lens is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS2, which she recently purchased. She utilizes a lighting setup by Alien Bees for group shots, the reception room, and some portraiture. She typically works with a second shooter, Yoshi Morimoto (YM Images, www.ymimages.com), who’s been working with her for seven years (when he’s not booked on jobs of his own). “I feel very blessed that he’s been so loyal and has stuck by me all this time,” Douglass says.
Her clients have also been loyal, referring her to their friends so often that she doesn’t have to advertise. “When I get a call for a place I’ve never been, I get much more excited about the job.”
Her destination work has taken her to locations as far flung as Istanbul, Serbia, Morocco, India and Indonesia. However, she won’t accept a job halfway around the world if the couple plans to immediately embark on their honeymoon. “I don’t do a destination unless I can schedule a day-after session because there’s never enough time on the day of the wedding to really capture the charm of the surroundings.”
For those photographers who’ve spent considerable time and money on marketing and still can’t get the clients, Douglass suggests they take some time off and study their craft—whether it’s by taking classes or through trial and error. “Look at the photographers you admire across any style of photography. Look at the way they use light and what they’re able to do. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses—and knowing what you don’t know—is also important.” Douglass believes it takes about five years to acquire the technical chops necessary to handle any situation a wedding might throw at you.
“If you’re willing to work hard and invest in really learning your craft, the work will come,” she says. “If you want to be the photographer that people are willing to pay top dollar for, you have to generate work that other people are not generating. You can’t just slap crap in an album; you have to work at it.
“When you’re dealing with high-money clients, you have to work through the night,” she adds. “You can’t just show up and work eight hours.” (Douglass recalls how she recently spent 43 hours photographing one wedding!)
Douglass considers her studio a boutique business and has no plans to grow into a high-volume studio. “I turn away several hundred weddings a year because I’m already booked. There’s only so much I can take on.” And that includes demand for information about how she does her postprocessing. Her new company, ColorPop (www.colorpop.com), provides color and toning actions for Photoshop, and will soon offer how-to videos. “I hope ColorPop will enable me to help more people elevate the quality of their work, and in turn get more bookings.”
Douglass says she would like to continue to improve the quality of her images and do more concept shoots. “This is my life and my love,” she concludes. And while she admits to being “married” to Photoshop, she’s always striving to be better: “The day you stop learning is the day your business fails.”
For more information about Andrena Photography visit: http://photography.andrenaphoto.com or www.colorpop.com.
Lorraine A. DarConte is a freelance writer/photographer currently living in Tucson, Arizona. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Rangefinder, Studio Photography & Design, Newsday and Tucson Visitors’ Guide.
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