The photographer I never dreamed would ever talk to me told me she would shoot my brand. I was in shock that she had said yes.
“Depending on a few things,” she had emphasized.
I was too scared to ask specifically what the “few things” were, because I was pretty sure I could guess: she had a certain standard of people she worked with, and she expected me to rise to that standard.
She required me to get on the phone with a stylist and ask all of my questions to her. She walked me through previous galleries full of full-lipped women, crusty pastries, and intentionally chosen props. Each image was so beautiful and magical I thought I might pass out.
I was terrified there was no way I’d be able to create something that would measure up. But the future of my family was on the line, so there was no way but to run directly into the fire.
In my desire to create something cohesive and aligned, I stumbled on my Heart Story process. Within a moment, I felt clear and confident about the direction I needed to take.
From there, I went through great lengths to pull off my vision. I spent hundreds of dollars I didn’t have on props, flowers, wardrobe, and food. I asked to collaborate with people I had no business talking to. I painted my own backdrops. Because we would shoot at my apartment, I got my husband to rearrange all of our furniture with me a week before so I could practice. I cheated our narrow hutch to look like a long farmhouse table since we didn’t have one. I went to the flower market in lower Manhattan at 4 am the day before the shoot to get the best selection of flowers.
And when the day finally came, I was ready.
My photographer showed up, gave me a hug, took a look at everything, and started to unpack her gear. I showed her my Pinterest board and what my inspiration was, and we began. After she’d shoot some of my props, she’d ask me to rearrange it to make another little still life scene, or to bring it closer to the window. She’d pick up things she found the most interesting and would shoot them on their own. She’d ask me to move to get out of the light. When she would shoot me, she’d tell me where to look and how to position my hands. I’d tell her I had a new outfit I wanted to change into. I brought more and more ideas for her to shoot. Some of them she’d shoot, others of them she’d make an adjustment and then shoot, and some of them she looked through her lens and told me it wouldn’t work.
The images came back. I had never felt more beautiful looking at myself in a photo in my life. I was obsessed with the way all of my props looked. No matter where I put them, they looked great on the website template I was using. People were struck by how new and fresh my imagery looked. More and more people were coming to see what was going on. Within a few weeks of getting my pictures back, I launched my shop, sold out of all of my products, and was on my way to making my first ten thousand dollars.
My photographer told me that she immediately had a lot of people who also wanted her to shoot their branding photos. But there wasn’t a secret. My photographer and I just showed up. My photographer showed up with a decade of experience of knowing how to take something beautiful, and create a stunning image. I showed up with knowledge of myself, my Heart Story, and had translated that into props, backdrops, products, and stories for her to shoot.
So often, I see people hire a copywriter, photographer, designer, strategist, or stylist and they’ll either say, “just do what you think will look best for me!” or “I know exactly what I want,” and they’ll lay out a hodgepodge of all of their favorite people’s stuff. I know this because I’ve said both of these things. Let’s stop doing that.
Don’t hire brand service providers thinking that they will save you (or any business service providers/products/programs for that matter). The work they do cannot save your business or even take you to the next level. Only you can save your business. Only you can take your business to the next level. They are experts of tools like design, copy, imagery, strategy etc. These tools help you extend your reach and build relationships between your business and potential buyers. But at the center of it all is you. Do NOT abdicate your power. That would be like deciding to stop watering the roots of your tree because it’s growing a new branch. The truth is that your roots need even more water.
Stop acting like you’re an easy button. You are not an easy button. An easy button signals to business owners that they can stop using their brain because you’ve got it all taken care of. This can lead to endless revisions, unhappy clients, no momentum, and drama. You need to help people understand that you are a highly desirable master of your specific skill set, and that in order to get their money’s worth, they need to show up with the clarity and strength to match.
While this advice might seem specific, the truth is that it’s more like a dance. Both partners need to show up strong, have a mastery of skills and techniques, and possess a clear understanding of their abilities. Then the collaboration can be a productive, exciting experience of discussion, discourse, and creation. Just like my photographer and I brought our own stuff to the table. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if she would’ve shown up, and I had a pile of props, but had no idea what we would do with them? What if we hadn’t taken the time to arrange my apartment beforehand and practiced for as long as I needed to be ready? What if I would’ve been rummaging around in the fridge hoping we just happened to have something beautiful to use? It wouldn’t have worked.
I’ve done a lot of disempowering things in building my brand, but that photoshoot was not one of them. I showed up with a mission, a vision, plenty of ideas, and alignment. She showed up with mastery, vision, compassion, and creativity.
Her simple words of, “depending on a few things,” helped me rise up so we could create something truly unique, aligned, and extremely powerful. It’s your turn. Go find your Heart Story to begin. Then, in The Aesthetic Way, you’ll learn all of my specific tactics and strategies for finding your own aesthetic and pulling off the branding shoot you’ve been dreaming of.
Photography by D’Arcy Benincosa
Styling by Emma Natter
Paper Goods by Plume Calligraphy
Ring by Suzie Saltzman
Ribbon by Silk and Willow
Dresses by Anthropologie
Galette by Whitney Bush
Emma Natter is a business coach and writer. Her work intersects entrepreneurial strategies with the creative process so career hopefuls can find success, impact, fulfillment, and confidence in going their own way.
I’m Emma Natter, a path-to-success paver and art-trained business coach who first shattered her own career expectations by selling out of handmade styling goods from her little NYC apartment. Now as a strategist to thousands of creatives, I teach you to harness your passion so you can do the same.
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