How I Shot This, an Educational Platform for Photographers | Interview with Melli & Shayne

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” – Henry Ford

The moment you stop being curious is the moment you stop growing as an individual and as a business owner. No matter how long you’ve been in this industry and how advanced are your skills, don’t let yourself fall into the dangerous trap of “I know everything. Now I’m an expert” as that can impede you from exploring new options and techniques. 

As big advocates of education and sharing valuable knowledge with your community, we couldn’t pass by the incredible new project that was making noise on Instagram – the How I Shot This account. The name speaks for itself. The project is about sharing beautiful photos and explaining how they were shot, to the tiniest detail  – where was the light source, what were the camera settings, how was the composition created, why, who, where. All this information is presented in a beautiful and clear way, and it comes absolutely for Free!! The creators behind this account, are the talented wedding photography duo, Melli & Shayne. And apart from debunking photo compositions, they also share a lot of great insights on how to run a business, how to scale your revenue, how to improve client experience, and so much more.

Melli & Shayne by Julia & Gil Photography

We gave Melli & Shayne a call to find out more about the How Is Shot This project. We also talked about why it’s important to stop treating your brand like a baby or passion, the secret that gets your calendar booked, and income flowing, as well as the NEW PLATFORM that they just launched!

You’ll want to bookmark this one, as it’s full of valued insights!

How did the concept of How I Shot This come to life and how is it different from other educational platforms and communities? 

It basically happened one night, a year or two ago. Me and Melli were having a bottle of wine and talking about the industry, thinking about what it was like when we started in the photography business and the resources we had available. When I started out, I would grab a pen and paper, go on the internet and write down my own description of what aperture and shutter speed meant. That’s how I learned. And while I got the basics down, I kept seeing all these incredible photographs out there and just couldn’t piece together how they were taken. And these were not just wedding photography images, they could be fashion or landscape, it doesn’t matter. 

The information that the photographers were sharing was what camera equipment they used and what settings they had. As beginners, that tends to be the main thing that people ask for. But to me, now, this is the least important information. What camera and what exposure settings you had – is so subjective and circumstantial. I could go to the same location but the lighting situation can be very different. So if I set my camera to the same settings that you had back then –  it makes no sense. And as beginners, that information is not very clear. Everyone thinks that the camera is doing it. 

So we started to realize that there was something missing, something that we wish we had back in the early days. I wish I knew exactly how a given photo was taken, and I don’t mean just the camera equipment. I want to know why did they compose the image like that? How did they do it? What did they pay attention to? And if we speak about portraiture – what did they say to this person to get that look or emotion? What guidance did they give or questions did they ask? What if they spoke a completely different language to their subject?

Even things like focusing, which as a beginner can be a challenge at times. How do you focus while your subjects are moving? As someone who has been doing this for many years now, focusing was never a problem, but I realize that for beginners it actually is. Or lighting, which is probably one of the most paramount things. Where was the light? How was it used? And most importantly why did the photographer capture this backlit? 

These are questions that I ask myself even now. I look at a photo and I think to myself “That’s an amazing picture, but where was the light? Why was it put there?”  And of course, given all my experience, I understand it now. But as a beginner, asking these questions and not having the answers kinda sucked. 

I would have loved to be able to interrogate every photographer that I admired. And that’s basically how the idea formed. So we took a picture, wrote down as many questions as we could, and then we tried to answer them. It was fairly easy because it was our photograph. We thought “hey, this is pretty cool! Let’s brainstorm on some ideas” and after coming up with a few different concepts and layouts, we said ok, let’s launch this on Instagram and see what people think about it. So we did. 

We got an overwhelming amount of support and direct messages about how cool this is. A few large blogs wanted to write about us in that first month – SLR Lounge, Formed from Light, and you guys, which was pretty incredible. 

A lot of people were asking “why are you sharing this and what is the concept?” because it’s rare to have such intimate information given about a photograph, so freely. And I think the reason why it’s so rare is because people are afraid that everyone will be able to do the same work as they do, and they will no longer be unique or valued. Which is just wrong, because you will always be YOU. Your eyes will always be your eyes. When you go to a workshop and there are 10 photographers shooting the same bridal couple, those pictures will all have something different. And that’s why we never had a fear with it. I’d genuinely be curious to see someone try and take a picture as close to ours as they can if that’s what they want. But since launching How I Shot This we haven’t seen anyone reproduce the exact same images as ours. We encourage our followers to take the information that we share, get inspired by it, and create their own thing. Or problem-solve with it.

So that’s how it started. The fact that we’re growing every day and getting a lot of support – is overwhelming and really wonderful. We just launched an online platform and already have people signed on, and those who submitted all of their pictures. The project is really coming alive and I’m genuinely excited because we’ve got work from photographers that I really look up to. Even me, someone who’s done this for years, I read their stories and find it so fascinating to see how they took these pictures. And that’s why I think this project is so great, because it’s not only for beginners. It can be applied to anyone in the industry, because you can always learn from your colleagues. Some of out best friends in this industry are amazing photographers who shoot differently to us. It doesn’t mean that we are better or worse than them, just different. I can definitely learn how they use light at night and they can learn how we handle getting ready shots. And it’s so cool to be able to share this information. 

How will How I Shot This evolve? Do you have further plans?

Besides having more photographers in the wedding industry, we want to open up the platform to different genres and styles –  portraiture, fashion, and even influencer photography. There is so much planning behind the scenes, the poses, the light, the message, the editing. People who want to become online influencers could learn so much.

The people that we’ve selected as the starting bunch for the platform are quite diverse. We’ve got dark and moody, those who shoot mid-range and brighter imagery. We wanted to make sure that there’s something for everyone. And I think someone who likes dark & moody could definitely learn a thing or two from brighter work. And vice versa. There’s always something there to learn. Maybe it’s the way that you expose your photos, use your equipment, or handle the sun. Having access to all this information can help with problem-solving in your future sessions. After all, our ultimate goal is to offer the best service we can to our clients.

What in your opinion stops many creatives from scaling their business? 

I think the biggest blocking factor is fear. People are afraid to try new things, and that’s normal, all of us have that fear. The difference between people who make it and people who stay the same – is that they hesitate too long. With everything in life, there are risks. You will make decisions, whether it’s buying a house or a car, moving somewhere, getting new equipment – there’s always a risk to it. But it’s how you look at it, that’s what will separate you. 

Learn how to harness this fear. Go through life understanding that failure is a possibility, but it’s not the end of the road. Failure is a lesson. It’s a good thing in a way. You learn what didn’t work and you go into the next thing with that experience and knowledge. 

Once you start to see things like that, a lot more doors open. Of course, it’s still scary, but you can calculate that risk. Do your research, do everything you can, and make that decision. So down the line, when you’re 80 years old, you don’t look back and say “I wish I did that, I wish I would have tried it, even if it sucked, even if it failed, I think I should have done that.” Don’t let yourself have that moment when you’re that old. Rather go “Ah, I did that thing, it didn’t work out, it was a disaster, but I made it out. I got there and this was a hell of a story.” This is abetter way to reflect on your life. 

Even me now, as I have gotten older and with our son born, the risks are much higher, but I believe that I have to give it a try. Everyone who’s successful has tried. They started it. Maybe they failed a hundred times before they’ve made it. They all took risks. Every single person.

You mentioned that everything changed when you stopped looking at your photography brand as a passion, and started treating it as a business. Tell us more about it!

It came to a point when we realized that some of the top photographers out there didn’t have a calendar full of perfect, dreamy weddings. Not all of their work makes it to their portfolio. And that sparked the idea that they do it to pay the bills. They’re treating it like a business.

Of course, it’s nice to have those amazingly beautiful weddings to show and fill up your whole year with, but that’s not realistic. By trying to get only the very best weddings, we are limiting ourselves. And if we want to live off this, we really need to think about it differently and treat it like a business. Once we accepted that, we started taking jobs that would not make it into our portfolio, and that was okay. We also tried negotiating with a more business mindset, and overall treating our brand a lot more seriously, rather than “oh it’s a passion, it’s our baby and it deserves only the best.” I mean you can do this if photography is not your main income source. But in our case, we wanted it to be our sole bread and butter. We wanted to live off this business, and we are now. 

Not every wedding or shoot that we do is going to make it to our website. And that’s okay. People don’t hire us to be featured on our website. That realization changed it all. We started making business decisions that are smarter. We had a ton of equipment that we barely used. We sold everything and got ourselves down to literally one bag – two cameras, four lenses (two 50mm and two 35mm), and two flashes. And that was enough to get us going. 

With this minimization and change of perspective, we started getting better bookings. Because we were treating it more seriously, we had more negotiating power. Our marketing became more interesting, we invested into advertising and branding. We’ve put in the effort of doing styled shoots because now we understood their value. All these decisions have made a big difference for us.

Did the communication also change? The way you talk to clients?

Absolutely. Melli has always had this business shoe on her as she comes from a corporate background. Yet I believe that she became even more business-oriented. Obviously, she’s still very friendly and lovely to all our clients, but we also have a lot more respect for our own business. If people are asking for huge discounts or free stuff we are not afraid to say no. Because in the end it’s a business, and we need to make money to survive. And to be honest, a lot of the people who asked for discounts ended up booking us anyway, at our full price. They just thought they’d try and ask. Fair enough. 

So, it’s this whole sort of professionalism that came with the change of mindset. It gives our clients the feeling that these people are legit serious. If they say something they mean it, whether it’s advice or a vendor recommendation. So they tend to trust us a lot more now. We’re not afraid to say “Look, this is not going to work. We’ve been there before, we know it. It’s just not going to work. We recommend doing this. Take our advice or not, but based on our experience, this is what it is” and we find that people appreciate that. 

So in a way yes, our communication has changed, but it changed for the better. Yes, we are more firm in what we are doing, but it’s still communicated in a very friendly and loving way.

Did any of your clients ever message you asking why you haven’t featured them on your website or social media?

Very rarely. It happened once, but we explained that it’s not about that. The wedding was beautiful. We just genuinely didn’t have the time because it was in the middle of the wedding season. We feature a lot of our clients on Instagram but very rarely do our couples care if they make it on our website.
They need to understand as well that we can’t upload everyone. It’s not a stylistic decision, we just don’t want to overload the people who visit our website. Less is more. Our website does not have 300 blog posts. We have 1 or 2 pages max and limit the amount of images under 60. Sure, it’s hard but it’s necessary. 

What’s one thing that nobody tells you about wedding photography when you get started?

I’m going to repeat myself on this one – it’s that people don’t fill up their calendars with perfect weddings throughout the year. Just because you see a photographer posting incredible work on Instagram all the time, it doesn’t mean that they are not shooting weddings that are not ideal for them. They have their challenges. Sometimes, the most beautiful weddings have the most hilariously terrible stories behind them, with difficult people or bad situations. So what you see on Instagram isn’t the whole story. Just keep that in mind.

What scares you?

The biggest thing that scares us right now is investing into new projects. I’m not going to lie, we’re also afraid of Covid. Not necessarily of the disease but of what it’s going to do to the industry and to us economically and financially. I think we’re not alone in that. We’re worried about it. We are human beings and we’re worried about next year. We’re worried about what’s going to happen with the bookings, regulations, and everything. But we are also a bit nervous about investing into things, because it’s a risk. Even How I Shot This, it does cost money, there are things that we have to pay for. We do it because we’re taking this risk. We’re afraid, but we’re doing it with as much education as we can. 

As entrepreneurs, that fear also drives us. It’s exciting when you invest into something and good things come out of it. I would love to show you the DMs that we get from people who say how much our posts help them and how thankful they are that we’re sharing this information. To me, that’s worth everything that I put into it. And I know that Melli feels the same way. 

Melli & Shayne by Kreativ Wedding

Final Words

As Jai Long said – you fail every time you don’t try. Don’t allow your fear, doubt, comfort zone or public opinion dictate your life choices and life direction. If it requires a big leap (of faith, of financial investment, of time) – do your research, calculate each decision – but still pursue it. The worst that can happen, is you’ll learn something and have a fun story to tell. 

Luckily, today, there are tons of resources, communities, articles, podcasts, and platforms that can help you learn, grow, and prepare for just about any project or challenge coming your way. The question is, are you brave and motivated enough to reach out and grab what you truly want? 

We believe in you!
Flothemes team.

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