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Behind every success story…..is all the stuff you don’t see on instagram

The concept of success in itself is a strange thing. It’s something I wrote about a couple of years ago, on the eve of our business turning 5 years old. I discussed what “success” meant to us at the time and how it felt like the goalposts were forever changing. That’s the funny thing. Success means something different to everyone. It feels different to everyone. Even your own idea of what it means tends to evolve over time.

So why am I writing about success again? What’s changed so much in 2 years? The truth is everything and nothing really.

More than ever I am seeing established professionals say that they’re struggling. Bookings are down. Couples are increasingly “on a budget”. People are worrying because their diaries aren’t as full as they’d like (or need) them to be.

This observation came around the same time that Your Perfect wedding photographer posted their annual industry survey. This survey uses information provided by wedding photographers to break down key information about the industry- including things like the average number of weddings shot, the average spend on photography etc. It also includes comments from professionals about how they feel about the industry and their concerns.

When you look at the numbers alone, things seem fairly bleak. On one hand the average number of weddings that photographers are shooting each year is going up, but the average spend on photography compared to a couple of years ago has reportedly fallen. So on the face of it, it seems that photographers are working more, for less money. The beginning of the end for the industry?

Not quite.

What it’s important to remember is that the information provided is just numbers on a page. There’s no context and no specific information which gives a greater understanding of the figures. There’s no breakdown which shows average spend vs number of years of experience for example. There’s no indication of the minimum fee charged, nor the maximum. In theory a couple of new photographers building portfolios could have responded charging only £150 per wedding, which will of course bring the average spend down. We don’t know how many photographers replied. We don’t know how many specialise in weddings and how many dabble, whilst specialising in other areas. In essence, there’s not actually enough information provided to make any of the results directly comparable to our own situation.

Articles like this, sadly, and without intention I am sure, are just fuelling the fire at an already strained time in the industry. Enquiries tend to slow down a little in March anyway Vs the mad rush that is January and February. Pair this with an article that doesn’t present the most positive information and people begin to panic. They’re already feeling down because enquiries have slowed (as is normal) and now it’s reported that the cost of wedding photography has fallen compared to a couple of years ago. It’s easy to understand why people panic when presented with such a cocktail of information.

Take it with a pinch of salt

I beg you to take things like this with a pinch of salt rather than trying to directly compare your business and successes to others. As photographers we should know better than anyone that there’s more to most situations than meets the eye. Only a while ago was I shooting a wedding whilst feeling like death on the inside. Behind the smiles and bubbly exterior there was a very sick photographer who dashed out to puke moments before the first dance. Would you ever know from the photos? Aid the couple ever suspect? Not a chance.

The point is that you never know what another person’s situation really is, both in life and in business. Often you only know what you think you know, or what you want to see. Almost everything looks like a success story when it’s presented in a single frame, in a single snapshot.

A single beautiful moment doesn’t necessarily translate to a beautiful day. In fact, a single beautiful moment may be all we have in a whole week, or even a whole month in business.

A beautiful lie?*

But beautiful moment, followed by beautiful moment, followed by beautiful moment begins to look a lot like a beautiful life doesn’t it? And that’s what so many of us see from others, without realising that it’s also what we present to the world. Not consciously, or with any attempt to deceive, it’s just natural to want to share your successes with the people you love or the people what have supported your business. If things aren’t going so well, again, naturally, people step away- perhaps to focus more time on their business or to re-focus. We don’t usually see the bad (read: normal) bits.

Posts are more visual

Take our instagram feed for example. In the 1238 days that we’ve had an account we’ve shared 607 photos (as of todays date) During that time, for simplicity, let’s say we’ve shot, 100 weddings and delivered 500 photos per wedding. That would be 50,000 photos.

AT BEST that means we’ve shared 1.2% of our work over the last 3.5 years.

If you apply those same numbers to a single wedding day, with 12 hours of coverage, that equates to sharing just 8 minutes from the day. That often wouldn’t even cover the amount of time it takes to lace up a wedding dress.

More than ever, businesses (and individuals) are using social media to engage and connect. In the last 2 years, instagram has taken over from Facebook somewhat and as a result our interactions with one another are more visual than they’ve ever been. We share images, “stories” and videos, offering a convenient snapshot of our work or lives. What a snapshot does not provide however is context, explanation, justification, a backstory. For example, we all know someone who always seems to be on holiday. No one ever posts the exotic holiday snap with a caption that says “I’ll be paying off this credit card bill for the next 6 years” though do they? That may be their reality though. But we see that photo and lust after the idea of the holiday and lament the fact that we can’t afford it. The reality was that neither could they.

It’s all about how we perceive things and want to be perceived

Business feeds are the same. People post when they’re out enjoying a mid-week lunch with industry friends, or when they’re out at a fancy awards ceremony. No one posts the spotty, dressing down selfies when they’re up to the eye balls with editing and accounts. It’s all a case of perception and how we want to present ourselves and our businesses to the world.

Now look at the bigger picture and apply the same principles to life. How much of the over all picture are we really seeing? How much do we know, and how much have we assumed based on the limited information provided to us- where has that information come from? 

Behind every perceived success story is likely to be one that’s very different from what you might imagine. Remember, we’re all doing the same job and we each face the same stresses and situations, whether we post about them or not.

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