Heather McKay, a Rochester NY photographer is one of those people that you just don’t ever forget. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person at WPPI when we were doing some usability testing and customer feedback sessions on our new web galleries. Before this I had only “met” her through Facebook but upon meeting her in person I felt as if we had known each other for years.
Heather started McKay’s Photography and said it took her, “years and years to finally fall into weddings.” She has been a photographer since she was a child… she use to dress people up in silly costumes just to take their pictures for fun. Over the years she moved into Fine Art photography and swore off weddings. “I wish I realized earlier that there are other people like me that don’t want the traditional wedding photos of the 70’s and 80’s,” said Heather. It wasn’t until a friend of hers was getting married, and seeking wedding photographers that Heather started making the transition. Her friend’s wedding is where it all began! As Heather says “My goal has always been to photograph wedding as a photojournalist and as a friend. To capture the essence of the person, as only a friend would know how.”
Now she is happily shooting weddings and meeting some amazing couples.
PS – Bring out that box of tissues – there is a moving story down there… Seriously, get that box out, you are going to need it.
Describe your personal style:
A mixture of Eddie Bauer and Anthropology. Very functional, with a hint of modern trends. Someone recently described my work as artistically real. I like that.
Which photographers inspire you?
Sebastiao Salgado, Joe Buissink, Gary Isaacs, David Williams, Julia Margaret Cameron. Toronto is churning out some amazing wedding photographers right now.
What gear or gadgets can you not live without?
My Fuji S5 cameras, Aperture and my camera bag. I guess I like the underdogs.
I would buy 20 more Fuji S5s if I could. Aperture is the key to my album and print sales. My camera bag, which is actually a high end diaper bag, is the BEST camera bag I’ve ever owned.
Name a person, place or thing you cannot live without.
Everything is temporary.
I guess my health. I’m really active and can’t imagine not being able to move my body.
How does your studio set itself apart from the multitude of new photographers out there?
By trying to invent the next trend, focusing on pure quality of image without gimmicks, quality time with each client and selling wedding albums.
I do lose weddings because I don’t provide the digital files with wedding coverage, however I think this is the biggest disservice to my clients and their eventual offspring. Not to mention photographer’s bottom lines. My customers are SO happy when they get their heirloom wedding album. It is one of those things that you don’t know you are missing out on until you go through the process.
What is the biggest challenge you have had in your business so far and how did you overcome it?
I have had just one nightmare couple. Just one in 9 years! They taught me SO much about what I needed to have in writing and how to be preemptive. I would not be nearly as successful (with super happy couples) had it not been for them.
All of my success with albums is due to the chaos these people brought into my life. Now, my couples cry tears of joy when I deliver their final wedding album and they send me thank you notes! I even got a thank you note from a bride’s Grandma this year!
It is hard to explain here how important the album process is. For my business and for my couples. If it wasn’t for this couple, I wouldn’t have the backbone I have today with my policies and procedures. You live and learn, right?
What is the most successful marketing strategy you have implemented in your business?
I was a very early adopter of Facebook and it brought me a lot of business before other photographers caught on. Now I try to get as creative with it as possible and make it as easy as possible for my past clients to refer my studio.
Recently, my blog comments were switched over to Facebook commenting instead of standard WordPress comments. This has increased the comments dramatically and I just read an article about Google’s new ranking system where interaction is now key. Staying on top, or ahead, of these changes is important for staying relevant and ahead of the curve.
How does DigiLabs Pro help your business?
Oh, in so many ways. I was soooooo unhappy with my previous gallery host and spent months searching for the replacement. There has been nothing but puppies and rainbows with DigiLabs Pro ever since. My print sales increased immediately upon transitioning.
Currently, the albums are super hot with y couples. We are totally digging the Marina line. One Grandmother of a Bride offered to buy the couple a new coffee table to put the album on!
What I love is that DigiLabs handles their business like I do…. Just enough of what is hot & trendy with keeping things as simple as possible.
Tell me about one of your biggest disasters from a shoot.
Well, there are several mini disasters that happen each year, right? My first ‘real’ wedding (where they found me through advertising) was the biggest. From start to finish, curve balls were thrown at me. It taught me EXACTLY what my strength and weaknesses were.
One situation, that taught me a lot, was from 2009. I was photographing a wedding in a giant art gallery, Artisan Works. This place is huge (50,000 square feet!) and the lighting changes every 4 feet. On camera flash is a must. Of course, all of my Nikon Speedlights started to malfunction. Walking the distance to my spare camera bag/batteries/flashes is a hike and the DJ is announcing important events on the other end of the main room. Meanwhile I’m frantically trying to trouble shoot the different flashes, batteries, charging batteries, etc. Luckily, my Qflash was working, so I just used that. This was stressful for several reasons, but mostly because I typically take several candid images of each guest. Not really an option at this wedding.
It was time to leave and I was feeling this itch to stick around because the bride and groom were exiting to sparklers. I sucked it up and stayed late. After the couple left, I quickly photographed the guests with sparklers. The last shot of the night is one that will stick with me, and the family, forever. It is of a 13 year old boy and his brother with fistfuls of sparklers and huge grins on their faces. Four days later the 13 year old was hit by a car and perished. This is the last image of him – and an image of pure joy. Had I not stayed late and finished what I perceive to be my job (getting images of guests), this family would not have this image to remember their son, full of life. This was a reminder that though the rings and shoes are nice, the guest list is the MOST important detail….
What word of advice can you give to other (seasoned or new) photographers?
I know you hear this all the time, but be yourself. Do as much research as possible on business, posing, lighting, composition, design, marketing and taxes. And then infuse your personality in there. People do want whatever it is that you are selling… you just need to find the right people. If you do your homework and get your ducks in a row, everything will work out just fine.