TV Show Inspo
The Lesson: Pitch Local
Karen Rainier may have been surprised by the viral success of a new wedding series that she created this year, but she conceived it with a considered purpose: the Westminster, Maryland-based photographer wanted to create images to attract her ideal client that also infused her personality into her brand. Rather than mimic the prevailing trends in her industry, Rainier turned to television—specifically, one of her favorite shows, This Is Us, an NBC hit drama series that features a wedding in its first season.
After finding a couple who resembled the show’s betrothed characters and scavenging around for identical props, Rainier submitted the images to her favorite wedding blog and waited for three weeks. There was no response.
“I was crestfallen,” Rainier recalls. Then she saw a BuzzFeed article about This Is Us and, on a lark, emailed the editor her images. They impressed the editor so much that BuzzFeed ran the images right away, touting Rainier’s work. From there, her photo series rocketed around the Internet, landing on Martha Stewart Weddings, TODAY.com, Huffington Post, People and more. Rainier suddenly realized just how many people were probably eyeballing her social media presence. “I knew I had to clean it up and really make sure I was putting my best foot forward,” she says, which meant ensuring only showing images her ideal client would want to see.
Besides tweaking her online presence, Rainier used the newfound attention to take a long overdue step: raise her prices. “I had been under-charging,” she admits, “and this gave me the confidence to charge what I am worth.”
For all of the attention her photo series gained, Rainier received just a single booking call the week they went viral. It was for a child’s birthday party. “I haven’t done those in years,” she says. She declined the offer. After the first week, bookings did grow, steadily—success she attributes to more localized coverage of her photo series in the Baltimore Sun.
In fact, the one overriding lesson Rainier took away from her viral success was the need to pitch the viral photos to local media outlets. “Outside of celebrities, no one is booking their wedding photographer through People magazine,” she says.
National media attention can raise visibility, but it’s local media attention that can drive business, Rainier sums up. She is working on two new projects now, and sending them to editors at local outlets will be her new priority.
The Lesson: Throw Out the Script and Get Real
Sometimes you have to throw out the script—that’s what Australian wedding photographer James Day learned when he had planned to shoot newlyweds Roslyn and Adrian against a dramatic sunset. “I do love to ask a lot of questions and create a space where the couple feels connected,” he says, “however I found for a few minutes there that I was focusing on the light and the situation way too much. I threw my cameras down, basically walked over to them and said, ‘Scrap all that, let’s create something real here.’”
As Day recounted in his original Facebook post of this photo, he asked Adrian a question and told him to tell the answer to his bride, not him. “Out of the billions of people on the planet, you’ve chosen to spend the rest of your life with Roslyn,” Day told Adrian. “Can you tell her why?” The effect was almost instant. “In a matter of moments,” the photographer recalls, “I could start to see Roslyn’s eyes glisten, then the most beautiful tears streamed down her face. Then I found myself crying.”
Day posted the image of Roslyn to his Facebook page, where it garnered a few thousand likes. He says it’s hard to reconstruct exactly what lit the fuse, but a friend did pass the image onto Huffington Post. Another follower posted a screenshot of the image to Twitter, and then it really picked up steam. The photo was picked up by People, Bustle, the UK’s The Independent and dozens of other media outlets.
But Day himself didn’t do much to promote it—in fact, just as it was exploding around the Internet, he and his wife had landed in Iceland for a “well-deserved holiday.” And while it felt amazing to see his image shared widely, he says, the “timing was so frustrating. I just wish it happened when I had some time to actually do something.” He was invited on TV shows but had to decline because he was away. He carved out one hour each morning during his vacation to respond to the most urgent emails, but other than that, he had to let the moment pass.
Still, the ripple effects from the image’s online popularity have been positive. His inquiries have increased and his booking rates have also improved. Though while his social media following grew, Days notes, “I’ve found it hasn’t made any difference to the amount of people that interact with my social media.”
If a subsequent image goes viral, Day knows what he’d do. “I’d hire a PR agency pronto to promote me and the work more widely. I know I missed out on so many opportunities because I didn’t.” But, he adds, “I know there will be more opportunities. And family comes first.”
Three Cheers For Kelsey
The Lesson: Big Boosts Work—Sometimes
Photographer Crystal Moran, from Russel Springs, Kentucky, was shooting the wedding of University of Kentucky alum Kelsey Lange when one of the groomsman asked her to take a picture of them, and she conceded. “He threw one of the bridesmaids up in the air for a stunt,” Moran recalls. “I snapped away in amazement.” She quickly discovered that most of the bridal party was made up of cheerleaders. “Right then and there, I thought the groom must go up and so I told him to just squeeze his butt cheeks together and he would be fine!”
Moran did a light edit on the pictures and posted them to her Facebook page. The next day, Kentucky Sports Radio shared it, followed by the University of Kentucky. That caught the eye of an editor at Yahoo!, who called Moran. “I knew that something big had really just happened,” she says.
Her primary concern as the images were shared online was protecting her clients, more than using it as an opportunity to highlight her business. “I was mainly concerned about trolls,” Moran says. “I certainly didn’t want to put my newly married clients in a situation where they could get their feelings hurt in any way.” Fortunately, the couple was excited about the online fame.
Business-wise, the viral success delivered some “decent exposure,” Moran reports. “The number of likes on my page had jumped up by about 200. I had about ten inquiries that week on my wedding prices. That said, people were more interested in the posing and backstory than the photography behind it,” Moran says. “I’d say it’s business as usual.”
The Lesson: Use the Spotlight Wisely
Viral images aren’t always lighthearted, and while the story of Chris and Shelley Holland’s wedding day has a happy ending, it unfolded in the aftermath of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, which struck Houston, Texas, just prior to the wedding. Within 24 hours, six months of wedding planning had been washed away, leaving the couple—and their photographers, Andi and Jim Davis of Twos Company Photography—scrambling to improvise.
The wedding ended up taking place in a different church; the original one was flooded and the pastor’s home was devastated. The Davises set out to an area nearby for photos and encountered flooded streets. “That was the biggest obstacle from the big day,” Jim recalls. Andi ventured out with the couple and grabbed this shot, which ultimately went viral.
The newlyweds shared the image Andi took to Ellen DeGeneres’ Facebook page, and she shared the image to her legion of followers, wishing Chris and Shelley congratulations. DeGeneres’ post earned over 120,000 likes and set the viral ball rolling—soon other outlets (E!, ABC News and the UK’s The Telegraph) had noticed it or related coverage and did stories of their own. “When we went viral, we were very humbled by it,” Jim says.
Rather than attempt to immediately parlay the attention into business, Jim says he took pains to highlight the plight of the original pastor for the Hollands’ wedding, who lost both his home and his church, sharing a link where people could donate funds for rebuilding.
The net effect of having the image shared far and wide was about 300 new Facebook followers, Jim says. It was, however, a “once in a lifetime experience.” If it happened again, he would once again not seek business enrichment, he says, but redirect the attention to a worthy cause.
The Lesson: Current Events Uplift Relevancy
Louisiana photographer scottie. o (who stylizes her name as such) typically works for brands but occasionally gets requests for portraits. Around late March, a mother wanted to have a session with her family that highlighted her Louisiana culture. “We both immediately thought of the large oak trees often found on old plantations,” scottie. o says. On the day of the shoot, the plantation the family had originally wanted to shoot was crowded with an event. “I remembered that the area had another plantation close by but forgot that it had burned down,” she explains, “however the lighting on the grounds of the Tezcuco plantation was breathtaking. I pitched it to them and they loved it as much as I did.”
After the shoot, scottie. o was on Twitter following the conversation around the riots in Charlottesville and decided to share some of the images from her session at Tezcuco. They were retweeted thousands of times, leading to an article on Upworthy.
“I posted the images in response [to the Charlottesville unrest] in hopes of showing people that love can drown out hate and pain,” she says. The images of a loving family set in the backdrop of historical pain were meant to “help people unplug” from the frenzy of the moment.
While gratified that the images made the viral rounds online, traditional portraiture isn’t the main aim, so scottie. o didn’t try to parlay the attention into new portrait bookings. “I enjoy creating,” she says. “Largely, my photography is fine art and a form of expression for me.” (That said, her Instagram engagement has been increasing steadily ever since.)